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Nerd time

3 Mar

I currently have THREE academic papers in the works. Well, the ideas are set, anyway. I like to start with a title and then allow that to guide my writing direction.

Here they are.

No Reason to Get Excited: Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” as Myth, Leitmotif, and Metaphor

Free Man in Paris: Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” as Folk Music Watershed

This last one doesn’t have a title yet, but the gist is that it’s about gender roles in brass instrument development in 19th Century Paris (where all the brasses were refined, thanks to the trend towards orchestral expansion).

Sublime to the ridiculous, indeed.

I actually emailed composer Bear McCreary about the first one, hoping to get 15 minutes to pick his brain about it.

(See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_of_Battlestar_Galactica_(reimagining)

I don’t know how much original research has been done on AATW in recent years, but I’m hoping I’ll be the first to get a paper out on it that also addresses the BSG stuff, the Dave Matthews Band covers, etc.

The Joni Mitchell paper has been on my mind since my undergrad days. I realize it’s a bold statement I’m making, that this album helped kill folk music, but the title COULD be more inflammatory than it is. ūüôā

For a decent piece of scholarship with an EXTREMELY inflammatory title, check out a book called¬†How the Beatles Destroyed Rock & Roll by Elijah Wald. He argues his case. Not sure how much I agree with him, but it’s a fresh perspective.

Any thoughts? I know the first two are sort of mainstream, like rock journalism, and the last one more “New Musicology.”

They’ll never take our freedom

13 Feb

William Wallace never said that, by the way. Thanks, Hollywood!

So, it’s time to make a change. Right now, I don’t know where I’ll be in August – could be in school, could be gainfully employed, could be on top of a mountain in India, could be fighting forest fires from a helicopter.

All I know is this – I AM FREE – and not tied to anyone or anything. What an incredible gift! I feel like an idiot for taking so long to realize this, and for taking 28 years to realize that not only should I actively pursue what I dream of doing, but that I DESERVE to do what I dream of doing. And I dream of doing lots of different things. I want to be one of those cool people who grows orchids in the front window of a hipster bookstore and smokes peyote with Najavo elders. I want to be one of those people who climbs K2 or Everest because it’s there. I want to sleep all day and play jazz in clubs all night.

I’m working on my resume and applying for teaching jobs. And jobs with the U.S. Forest Service. And maybe even Navy Officer Candidate School. And I’m going to start gigging with a new music group. Or I might move to L.A. and try to find work as a score supervisor/orchestrator for film and television. Or I might join the Peace Corps. I don’t know.

But I’m definitely jammed in a rut, and something needs to be different. Never again may I have this much personal freedom, so I’m going to do it. I’m inquiring into and applying for anything that suits my fancy right now, no matter how dangerous or far away. I want to travel and have fun adventures, and I want to do that now. Don’t make me beg, universe. I’m here to tell you how this is going to go, and you’re going to listen.

Off to save the world, BRB

20 Dec

This post has been a long time coming. It’s pretty personal, but what the hell. That’s what the internet is for, right? Also, this post is rated R. If you don’t want to know about my love life, don’t read it.

This is intended to be a focused discussion of certain attributes of the opposite sex, but apologies up front if it devolves into something else. I swear I’m not bitter. Maybe just a little bit.

My relations with men have been sort of bizarre as long as I can remember. By that I mean, I have almost exclusively cultivated a friendship base of men and have gagged at the idea of having “girl’s night.” It’s a character flaw – I just don’t get along with a lot of women. Maybe I’ve been brainwashed to believe that most women are the caricatures depicted in romantic comedies (*cough* Sex And the City *cough*) and therefore the notion of having to pretend to be interested in designer shoes and coveting wedding dresses before you’re even in a relationship sort of makes me ill.

(My rant on marriage as an antiquated notion is more appropriate for another time; however, it is possible to take that sort of relationship nihilism to an extreme.)

This being the case, I’ve yet to enter a relationship with a man who wasn’t a really close buddy first. I mean like drinking beers and watching football kind of buddy, not some neutered watered-down “nice guy” friendship where the chick strings the guy along and acts completely equivocal, and he stays on a short leash because he thinks she might eventually view him in a sexual light. Don’t tell me you don’t know the type. This one’s not completely a cliche, I’m afraid.

What this brings to mind is yet another form of cultural conditioning where we sort of fall into these prefabricated marketing categories of male-female relationships. ¬†I blame Meg Ryan. Who made that bitch the be-all end-all of female idealism? Alas, I digress. This isn’t about chick flicks; it’s about the damage they inflict. Even people that claim to be totally immune to these sort of mores often wind up floundering in them.

I went through a pretty brutal breakup about 7 months ago – one that terminated a 4-year relationship that had admittedly been struggling with the distance between us. Still, it was so out of left field that I got whiplash. I think my back is still tweaked from getting the rug yanked out like that. In the same week, I received my Master’s degree and arrived home to a man who had decided to cultivate his “side project.”

By that I mean, it’s pretty shitty to cheat on your girlfriend while she’s living 2000 miles away and then wait until she moves back in with you to do the dumping so you can jump right in with the new flame. If karma is real, I have to hope that it acts quickly. But of course, it’s out of my hands. I have noticed, however, that actions like that have a way of coming back to haunt the actor.

It should not come as a surprise that I am a difficult human being to love. I am way too intellectual for my own good, often moody, incredibly passionate to a fault, and I’ve struggled with some health problems that have made me pretty unpredictable. It’s easy to lay excuses on the health issues, but the fact remains that I am now living a single life.

It kind of surprised me how much I enjoy the single thing. Women really get a shit deal when it comes to cultural conditioning regarding relationships. We’re nothing without a man to validate our existence, right? That’s really something of a non sequitur. This is why a lot of us turn into sluts. If we can’t get the emotional intimacy we’re supposed to desire, we may as well fuck our way to something resembling wholeness. Some of us don’t care how the hole gets filled, just that it does. (I’ll be here all week.)

After I came to embrace single life, I had an epiphany of sorts about this. I was in a committed relationship with a man who tenaciously encouraged me to sleep around. That was his kink. He didn’t get jealous – he got a kick out of the idea of me slutting it up.

Understandably (perhaps), this made me pretty uncomfortable. I don’t think I’m really wired for promiscuity. I like to have a good time as much as the next person, but I was having all of my physical and emotional needs met. Why was he so insistent that I sleep with other men? There is actually an entire subculture of men for whom this kink is a way of life. It got to the point where this encouragement had nothing to do with my personal satisfaction and had everything to do with me being his “property” that he was shopping around. He had always passed it off as the kink being about me, and about my personal pleasure. Nope.

When I had that lightbulb moment, it really made me think about how sadistic our society can be. Take porn and its addicts. Most mainstream porn isn’t about sex. It’s a graphic depiction of men wielding power over willing women in a pretty disturbing manner. There are some pretty shocking exposes of the porn industry that I’ve thumbed through in the past, and the stories those women tell will make your blood curdle. Because – at no time is there any meaningful physical intimacy taking place in porn. It’s psychological torture. It’s debased. It asks women how low they’re willing to stoop, and then demands that they go even lower. It reaches a point where it fails to be empowering to women, stops allowing women to take charge of their sexuality, and becomes instead patriarchy in sadistic action, forcing obedience and personal degradation from the women who participate.

Porn culture produces men who become enamored with the cult of the slut. It short-circuits the part of their brain that wants them to treat a woman as an equal (you know, as a human being and not an object) and instead turns her into a vector for his pleasure and dominance. It assigns value to sluts for their body parts and ability to shop said parts around.

I realize how man-hating this probably sounds. There’s probably not much I could do to convince the gentle reader that I am not, in fact, a man-hater. I would never generalize the entire species based on the actions of one. There is a bigger issue at work here. That issue is the reality that society itself has become completely devoid of compassion. You’d think this would be obvious the way American society has worked really hard to develop its “blame the victim” ethos, but a lot of people seem to think that this is a logical conclusion. Blame yourself for being poor! Clearly it’s something you did! Yep, because it’s my fault my $100,000 worth of degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

This attitude has really taken root, I believe, in part because of the sadism of porn culture. Shit, we can’t even have healthy sexual relationships because the prevailing imagery depicts women getting their asses ripped open by hordes of men. I’ve sort of begun to think there’s something a bit wrong with someone who gets a rise out of that stuff.

My point with all this is how impactful these images that hit the mainstream can be. I really used to think porn was harmless; I did. I’ve begun to rethink that position a bit. Not that I’m ardently against it, but then again, this goes back to my ability to separate fact from fiction, fantasy from reality, glossy porn shoots from the actual awkward sweatiness of sex. As I’ve mentioned before, there are a lot of people who lack the ability to discern what is fantasy from how they should behave. I can see the fun in some of it; I’m a highly visual person, so I get that. But I also recognize it’s not the norm. We’ve effectively brainwashed our culture into believing this is real life.

Porn has contributed to this¬†patriarchal¬†idealism in the sense that men begin to think this is okay. I mean, there is nothing healthy about only getting it up if your girlfriend is off sacrificing her dignity to random strangers. Obviously a distinctly modern problem – a product of the imagery that we are incessantly bombarded with in the name of getting a few rocks off. We’ve come full-circle as a culture: so sexually repressed that sexual deviance is out in the open.

The only thing that is going to solve this is if people can learn to discern reality from the barrage of garbage that saturates their days. But the longer I take in the zeitgeist, the more depressed I get about the situation. I wish that we were free to openly acknowledge one another’s humanness. I wish that healthy sexual relationships were normal. I wish this freaking dialectical nightmare of a country would just realize there’s always more to the story, and not to just swallow everything you see wholesale.

Anyway, this one was long and opinionated. Thoughts?

Depressed Germans Have All the Fun

13 Nov

There’s a new Lars von Trier film out. ¬†I don’t know if you follow Triers’ career at all, and I wouldn’t blame you. ¬†His films are usually one step away from emotional snuff. ¬†He’s probably best known for Dancer in the Dark,¬†a film featuring Icelandic singer/artist/human freak-out Bjork as an immigrant who is gradually going blind. ¬†She works ceaselessly (and in the end, futilely) to accumulate the money for her son to have an operation that will spare him a similar fate. ¬†She is eventually framed for the murder of the cop who steals her earnings, and sent to the gallows. ¬†Oh, and it’s a musical.

Needless to say, suffering and emotional torture are the binding ties of Trier’s characters. ¬†Subtlety is not really a part of his bag of tricks, so it should come as no shock that his latest film centers on a similarly depressing outcome and is titled Melancholia.

This film is about the apocalypse, and the reactions of a chronically depressed woman and her slightly more put-together sister to the impending doom. ¬†Something about a giant planet that is going to swallow up the earth. ¬†I’m not writing a movie review; instead I’m focusing on one peculiar aspect of the film’s production and score.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWQ2YZG8kcA

That is the link to the first eight minutes of the film. ¬†It more or less gives away the conclusion of the movie right away, so uh, SPOILER ALERT! I guess. ¬†It’s called Melancholia. ¬†It’s not likely to produce feelings of good cheer. ¬†Watch it and come back to my blog. ¬†I’ll wait.

So, what’s that music, you ask? ¬†It sounds vaguely familiar.

It’s the Prelude to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.¬† It contains harmonic language that completely disrupted the security and foothold of tonality. ¬†Marcel Proust wrote that the Prelude was the greatest work of art of all time. ¬†Music theorists were beside themselves trying to explain how in the hell Wagner could justify using the chords that he did. ¬†In the first 5 seconds of that clip, you hear a solitary string instrument playing three notes, and then suddenly there is a chord that sounds, well, kind of disturbing ¬†– F, B, D# G#. ¬†Maybe not so unusual to modern Western ears, who have soaked up the influences of Wagnerian harmony and Debussian extended techniques. ¬†But to the listeners of Wagner’s day, that chord was WEIRD.

Attempts to analyze the chord using contemporary harmonic techniques were wholly inadequate. ¬†So, they called it the Tristan chord. ¬†Wikipedia (and really, who better to trust on this subject than Wikipedia!) accurately reports that “it can be any chord that consists of these same¬†intervals: augmented fourth,¬†augmented sixth, and¬†augmented ninth¬†above a¬†root.”

So. It’s a tritone with an aug6 and an aug9 stacked on top. ¬†It’s not actually all that unusual – respelling the pitches in the chord as G#, B, D, F# produces a rather pedestrian half-diminished seventh chord. ¬†It’s the positioning of the pitches vertically – and their relationship to the surrounding IMPLIED key – that makes it so freaking weird. ¬†In 1865, this was groundbreaking stuff. ¬†As the melody progresses, it lands on a dominant chord – E, G#, D natural, B. ¬†If you respell the pitches of the Tristan chord using their enharmonic equivalents, or treat the chord as some kind of appoggiatura, you kind of get something resembling conventional harmony. ¬†But let’s be serious – this is a metric ton of chromaticism for music that was only 50 years removed from Beethoven.

What’s most significant is how long the orchestra sits on this unusual chord. ¬†They practically build a parking spot on it. ¬†Dissonances of this caliber, prior to this time, were typically used for color and brief moments of tension. ¬†They were usually resolved rapidly and added a certain juiciness to conventional harmonic progressions. ¬†Tristan¬†is an extended exercise in the rapidly crumbling facade of tonality. ¬†Less than 50 years later, Arnold Schoenberg would drive the final nail in the coffin and people like me would gnash teeth in mourning.

Wagner was kind of an asshole and a basket case. ¬†Today, we’d call him a drama queen. ¬†He was, after all, the harbinger of German Romanticism – the celebration of the dark recesses of the mind and the romance of suffering. ¬†Read up on Hector Berlioz if you want to understand the zeitgeist of Romanticism. ¬†Berlioz was French, but he embodied the characteristics of the cultural misunderstanding of psychology and the celebration of the tortured artist and his unrequited overtures of love.

Why do I bring all this up in connection to the film? ¬†Well, Lars von Trier was quoted as saying, shortly before the release of Melancholia, that he “desired to dive headlong into the abyss of German Romanticism.”

Abyss…diving…melancholy…you get the picture.

I found it rather fascinating that we have a film about the Earth crashing into a giant planet, underscored by some of the most disorienting and fatalistic music of the age, written and directed by a man who makes no bones about the true nature of depression Рof its dank corners and odd moments of implacable calm.  And this is coming during a period in our history where scores of us (myself included) are ingesting antidepressants to keep our heads above the water in a world that we seem to be floating away from Рa world where ceasing to care about living is in itself a form of liberation and peace.

Couple this with the recent spate of apocalypse rhetoric spread by money-grubbing preachers, Mayan hack scholars, and the History Channel. ¬†No wonder we all want the freaking world to end – that’s got to be better than this dreary existence of low-functioning, pill-popping uselessness. ¬†No wonder Trier used the most famous piece of music from an opera where everybody dies.

I’m linking a decent Slate review of Melancholia¬†at the bottom of this entry. ¬†The reviewer seems to take exception to some of the heavy-handedness, but they praise Trier’s depiction of depression as experienced through the protagonists.

It’s fascinating how mediums cross over and infuse each other with meaning, even 150 years apart. ¬†That’s why I do this.

Slate review:

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2011/11/lars_von_trier_s_melancholia_reviewed_starring_kirsten_dunst_and_charlotte_gainsbourg.html