The greatest audience comment ever recorded is, I think, a remark overheard at a performance of Ernst Krenek’s Second Piano Concerto at the Boston Symphony in 1938. A Boston matriarch responded to Krenek’s twelve-tone discourse by saying, ‘Conditions in Europe must be dreadful.’

He chose a way of death guaranteed to bring down a hailstorm of prying analytical chatter far in excess of anything he had experienced while he was alive. This is the paradoxical allure of suicide: to leave the chattering world behind and yet to stage-manage the exit so that one is talked about in the right way.

Alex Ross on Kurt Cobain. From the obituary that first appeared with slightly different wording in the New Yorker. [$]

The Searchers: Radiohead’s unquiet revolution – The New Yorker

Alex Ross on tour with Radiohead. I like this bit from Nigel Godrich on Radiohead’s ongoing effort to figure out their sound and musical directions. At one point,

People stopped talking to one another. ‘Insanity’ is the word. In the end, I think the debate was redundant, because the band ultimately kept doing what it has always done—zigzagging between extremes. Whenever we really did try to impose an aesthetic from the outside—the aesthetic being, say, electronic—it would fail. All the drama was just a form of procrastination.

The Searchers: Radiohead’s unquiet revolution – The New Yorker

I read an interview with Tom Waits, around the time of his album “Rain Dogs,” in which he talked about how you come to a point on an instrument where you have to stop playing it and find another instrument that you don’t know what you’re doing with. Part of songwriting is having that naïve excitement about not quite realizing why you’re getting off on it, because you haven’t had time to pull it apart yet. Songwriting relies on not pulling things apart: the best ideas are the simple ideas.

Thom Yorke in an interview with Alex Ross.

Alex Ross on Wallace Stevens:

Stevens’ grandeur is an inch away from absurdity, if not in the thick of it. This is by intention. He liked to deflate solemnity with silliness. His humor is his least noticed attribute, probably because it is so widespread. Even his titles—“The Revolutionists Stop for Orangeade,” “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”—undercut their own pomposity. Sometimes I think Stevens was a collegiate prankster who never gave away the joke he played on literature.

Alex Ross writes about the life and music of John Luther Adams.

Adams is an avid art-viewer, and is particularly keen on the second generation of American abstract painters: Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns, and Joan Mitchell. There are more art books than music books on the shelves of his studio, a neat one-room cabin that faces south, toward the Alaska Range.

Adams says, “I remember thinking, To hell with classical music. I’m going into the art world; I’m going to do installations. But I was really just interested in working with new media. And it doesn’t matter what I think I’m doing. The work has a life of its own, and I’m just along for the ride. Richard Serra talks about the point at which all your influences are assimilated and then your work can come out of the work.”

One of Adams’ experimental works is a room that generates the music based on external happenings.

The mechanism of “The Place” translates raw data into music: information from seismological, meteorological, and geomagnetic stations in various parts of Alaska is fed into a computer and transformed into an intricate, vibrantly colored field of electronic sound.

‚ÄúThe Place‚Äù occupies a small white-walled room on the museum‚Äôs second floor. You sit on a bench before five glass panels, which change color according to the time of day and the season. What you notice first is a dense, organlike sonority, which Adams has named the Day Choir. Its notes follow the contour of the natural harmonic series‚Äîthe rainbow of overtones that emanate from a vibrating string‚Äîand have the brightness of music in a major key. In overcast weather, the harmonies are relatively narrow in range; when the sun comes out, they stretch across four octaves. After the sun goes down, a darker, moodier set of chords, the Night Choir, moves to the forefront. The moon is audible as a narrow sliver of noise. Pulsating patterns in the bass, which Adams calls Earth Drums, are activated by small earthquakes and other seismic events around Alaska. And shimmering sounds in the extreme registers—the Aurora Bells—are tied to the fluctuations in the magnetic field that cause the Northern Lights.

I’d love to check that out.

A couple years ago, Alex Ross rounded up some literature on applause during concerts:

Up until the beginning of the twentieth century, applause between movements and even during movements was the sign of a knowledgeable, appreciative audience, not of an ignorant one. The biographies of major composers are full of happy reports of what would now be seen as wildly inappropriate applause.

Blame for the move to silence eventually falls on the conductors, beginning especially with Leopold Stokowski:

To refrain from applause heightens focus on the personality of the conductor. Silence is the measure of the unbreakable spell that Maestro is supposedly casting on us. A big ovation at the end salutes his mastery of the architecture of the work, or whatever… By the way, I‚Äôve noticed a new trend ‚ÄîThoughtful Celebrity Conductors holding their arms motionless for ten or fifteen seconds after the end of some vast construction by Bruckner or Mahler. ‚ÄúDo not yet applaud!‚Äù those frozen arms say. ‚ÄúDo not profane the moment!‚Äù

He goes on further to touch on the influence of recording technology on the individual & concert listening experience, the rise of classical performance as a high-brow cultural event, and the communal aspect of concert attendance.