Tag Archives: Reception

Coltrane’s saxophonic scream

The critical reception of John Coltrane’s saxophonic scream—an incredibly high-pitched, raw, and intense explosion of timbre—demonstrates how our precognitive reaction to sonic timbres can invoke tropes of masculinity and race.

A perceptual/cognitive approach that focuses on the degree to which the listener identifies with the sound, citing recent research on the neurophysiology of audition, locates a biological reason for the phenomenon of musical empathy—the perception that in listening to a sound we also participate in it. Our participation, however, is culturally conditioned.

Coltrane’s saxophonic scream was variously interpreted by music critics as the sound of black masculine violence and rage or as a sign of the jazz icon’s spirituality, a transcendent sound. Music critics’ visceral, embodied interpretations of Coltrane’s saxophonic scream turned on their reactions to the birth of free jazz in the context of the U.S. civil rights movement.

This according to “Theorizing the saxophonic scream in free jazz improvisation” by Zachary Wallmark, an essay included in Negotiated moments: Improvisation, sound, and subjectivity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016, pp. 233–44).

Below, the Coltrane’s performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1966.

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Filed under Black studies, Curiosities, Jazz and blues, Performers, Reception

Irving Berlin and jazz

In his four Music box revues (1921–24), Irving Berlin introduced a series of songs that were widely construed as jazz. That view has not prevailed, but the jazz label becomes more intelligible through efforts to restore its original milieu, including the songs’ distinctive musical and linguistic elements, their theatrical context, and the cultural commentary surrounding Berlin and his work in that period.

At a time when the term jazz had only recently entered public discourse, and when its meaning, content, and value remained in flux, Berlin deployed a variety of ragtime and blues figures and combined them in such a way as to produce a jazz trope, a musical construct created by juxtaposing disparate or even contradictory topics. When repeatedly set to lyrics that celebrate illicit behavior, the music gained further associations with things that jazz was thought to abet.

Theatrical setting further reinforced the songs’ links to jazz. Berlin wrote many of the numbers for a flapper-style sister act, often placed them in a climactic program position, and juxtaposed them with sentimental and nostalgic songs that lacked jazz flavor and whose lyrics, in some cases, pointedly denied jazz’s attractions.

Beyond the stage, the songs and their theatrical presentation flourished within an emerging perspective that identified Jewish Americans, such as Berlin and George Gershwin, as the key figures in jazz and musical theater. Berlin’s Broadway jazz stands as an influential and revealing intersection of musical, linguistic, theatrical, and social elements in the early 1920s.

This according to “Everybody step: Irving Berlin, jazz, and Broadway in the 1920s” by Jeffrey Magee (Journal of the American Musicological Society LIX/3 [fall 2006] pp. 697–732).

Today is Berlin’s 130th birthday! Below, Alice Faye sings his Everybody step, an example from the article.

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Filed under Popular music, Reception

“Bengawan Solo” and pan-East/Southeast Asian identity

Bengawan Solo (Solo River) was written by the kroncong singer Gesang Martohartono (above) in September 1940. A tribute to the beauty and significance of the river for the common people, the song subsequently assumed national importance, symbolizing the struggle for independence during the Japanese occupation of Java (1942–45).

The first widely popular song by an Indonesian composer written in Bahasa Indonesia, the Malay-based national language adopted by independent Indonesia, Bengawan Solo now evokes images of Indonesian revolutionary fighters to whom homage must be given. The song has spread throughout Southeast Asia, and it has even become popular in Japan and China, making it a potent symbol of pan-East/Southeast Asian identity.

This according to “The pan-East/Southeast Asian and national Indonesian song Bengawan Solo and its Javanese composer” by Margaret J. Kartomi (Yearbook for traditional music XXX [1998] pp. 85–101).

Below, a recording featuring the voices of the composer and Asti Dewi Christianna.

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Filed under Asia, Popular music, Reception

Boito’s disastrous premiere

 

The world premiere of Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele on 5 March 1868 at Teatro alla Scala was a disaster.

On the aesthetic level, the opera’s unconventional melodies, harmonies, allocation of voices, and voice leading were jarring for the puzzled audience.

Even worse, in this work Boito repudiated the era’s emphasis on Italian nationalism and sought to stimulate philosophical thought and analysis. This cultural treason was viewed as a serious offense during the Italian Risorgimento, and Boito was forced to revise the opera; his reputation as a librettist suffered as well.

This according to La prima de Mefistofele e il Risorgimento: Pubblico e riforma del teatro musicale nella Milano postunitaria by Stefano Lucchi, a dissertation accepted by Universität Wien in 2009.

Today is the 150th anniversary of Boito’s disastrous premiere! Of course, now the opera is his best-loved work. Below, Renata Tebaldi sings the celebrated aria L’altra notte in fondo al mare.

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Filed under Opera, Reception, Romantic era

33 1/3 global

 

In August 2017 Bloomsbury launched 33 1/3 global, a series of short music-based books related to but independent from their series 33 1/3. The new series brings the focus to music throughout the world, starting with Supercell’s “Supercell” featuring Hatsune Miku by Keisuke Yamada, in the subseries 33 1/3 Japan.

The lead singer on Supercell’s eponymous first album is Hatsune Miku (初音ミク), a Vocaloid character created by Crypton Future Media with voice synthesizers. A virtual superstar, over 100,000 songs, uploaded mostly by fans, are attributed to her. By the time Supercell was released in March 2009, the group’s Vocaloid works were already well-known to fans.

This book explores the Vocaloid and DTM (desktop music) phenomena through the lenses of media and fan studies, looking closely at online social media platforms, the new technology for composing, avid fans of the Vocaloid character, and these fans’ performative practices. It provides a sense of how interactive new media and an empowered fan base combine to engage in the creation processes and enhance the circulation of DTM works.

Below, Hatsune Miku in action.

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Filed under New series, Popular music, Reception, World music

Roman Catholic liturgical reform

The question of music for use in the Catholic liturgy was a hot button issue in Catholic circles for a good number of years after Vatican Council II, particularly in the U.S.

The result of the upheaval following the Council has been a radical shift in the musical content of the service, mostly involving a cantor leading the congregation in some sung Mass parts and several hymns that are dispersed over the liturgy. This discontinuity in the tradition thoroughly ignores both the Church’s intentions for musical reform as reflected in documents from the late 19th century to the late 20th century, and efforts ​in the U.S. dating from before 1963 that were inspired by several popes.

Just after the Council, in 1966, several of ​the most distinguished international scholars and church musicians ​met ​in Chicago and Milwaukee to discuss the state of the reform. Many ideas were presented and plans were made​, but all for naught. A group of liturgists, relying on their own readings of the Council—and, for the most part, little musical knowledge—nimbly redirected the reform, mostly due to their connections with U.S. Bishops and widespread confusion (even among the bishops) about what exactly the Council and subsequent documents said. ​The result has been the overwhelming musical banality in self-designed liturgies that can be widely witnessed in Catholic churches in the U.S. and beyond.​

This according to a series of seven ​ articles by Richard J. Schuler (above) originally published as “A chronicle of reform” in Sacred music in 1982 and 1983 and reissued in Cum angelis canere: Essays on sacred music and pastoral liturgy in honor of Richard J. Schuler, 1920–1990 (Saint Paul: Catholic Church Music Associates, 1990, pp. 349–416).

Below, an example of the reformed Mass as it may have been envisioned.

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Filed under Reception

Heavy metal and Classical antiquity

The early 21st century witnessed a surge of interest in comics and cinema regarding Classical antiquity, inspiring new studies in Classical reception. Heavy metal has also drawn on historical and mythological Classical material for subject matter, but this genre has received little attention from academics.

Classical reception in heavy metal illustrates an independent engagement with antiquity by the world outside academia, illuminating ways for scholars and students to better understand the impact of the field on contemporary media. Since the late 1970s Classical works, themes, and characters of Greek and Roman antiquity have inspired the lyrical, musical, and visual content of a number of heavy metal groups, with topics including works by Homer and Aeschylus, the founding of Rome, and the rise of the Principate.

This according to “Heavy metal music and the appropriation of Greece and Rome” by Osman Umurhan (Syllecta classica XXIII [2012] pp. 127–52).

Above and below, Ex Deo, one of the groups discussed in the article.

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Filed under Antiquity, Curiosities, Popular music, Reception

Thelonious Monk’s syntactic dissonances

Thelonious Monk has long been celebrated for his playing as much as for his compositions, but his pianism continues to occasion critical unease; a defensiveness is detectable in discussions of his technique even today.

Considerations of Monk’s playing tend to avoid or finesse peculiarities that raised questions about his ability in the first place; these include the jarring dissonances that strike some listeners as mistakes. An examination of his dissonance usage suggests two analytic categories: timbral dissonance and syntactic dissonance.

Monk’s 1968 solo recording of ’Round midnight exemplifies his use of syntactic wrong-note dissonances. Neither errors nor merely facets of Monk’s tone, their significance is bound up with their wrongness: They make sense because they sound wrong in a meaningful way, as significations on musical norms.

This according to “The right mistakes: Confronting the old question of Thelonious Monk’s chops” by David Feurzeig (Jazz perspectives V/1 [April 2011] pp. 29–59).

Today is Monk’s 100th birthday! Above, in 1969; below, the recording in question.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Reception

Nickelback jokes

 

Nickelback is one of the most successful rock bands of the early 21st century; it is also one of the era’s most publicly derided groups.

Nickelback hatred became trendy when the band was signed to Roadrunner Records in 1999, and the extreme metal label lost its subcultural cache even as it raked in the profits. From there the circle of scorn grew ever wider. In 2006 Nickelback released their most despised single, Rockstar, with lead singer Chad Kroeger’s reputation taking hit after hit.

Finally, with the birth of Web 2.0, contempt for the band was democratized and made available to all. Memes and a steady stream of jokes at Nickelback’s expense assured their “worst band ever” punch-line status. Around 2012 Nickelback finally took the if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em escape clause, reinforcing their butt-of-the-joke status with self-deprecating humor.

This according to “Nickelback the meme: A complete history of how we came to hate a successful band” by Sage Lazzaro (Observer 26 January 2016). Below, the official (and widely loathed) Rockstar video.

 

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Filed under Humor, Popular music, Reception

The Vatican’s Top 10

The Vatican has recommended ten pop and rock albums as perfect listening for being marooned on a desert island. The recordings serve as an alternative to the mediocre songs featured at Italian pop festivals and on the radio.

The Top 10 list includes the Beatles’ Revolver, David Crosby’s If I could only remember my name, Pink Floyd’s The dark side of the moon, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Donald Fagan’s The nightfly, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Paul Simon’s Graceland, U2’s Achtung baby, Oasis’s (What’s the story) Morning glory?, and Carlos Santana’s Supernatural. Bob Dylan is excluded from the list because he spawned generations of singer-songwriters who have harshly tested the ears and the patience of listeners with their tormented stories.

This according to “Dieci dischi per sopravvivere ai festival: Prontuario semiserio di resistenza musicale” by Guiseppe Fiorentino and Gaetano Vallini (L’Osservatore Romano CXLVIII/37 [14 February 2010]).

Below, the concluding track from David Crosby’s album.

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Renaissance