Arnold Schönberg: Playing Cards

Arnold Schönberg: Playing Cards. I love those designs.

This facsimile edition of playing cards painted by the composer Arnold Schönberg in c.1910 was published by Belmont Music Publishers in 1981 and produced by Ferd Piatnik (Vienna), with a preface by the composer’s daughter, Nuria Schoenberg-Nono. The original cards were made in watercolours and gouache on cardboard with gold and silver, size: 10.5 by 5.5 cm. No reverse has been found for the cards so a coloured pattern painted in one of his diaries was used.

Filed under: not just a composer.

I Want You Still: Celebrating 40 Years of Marvin Gaye’s Sensual Classic | Pitchfork

Fun interview about creating one of my favorite albums. Nice bit:

Out of the 13 months we took to make the album, there was six months of partying. Seriously. We would come into the studio, and Marvin would say, “Let’s go play basketball.” And we would play basketball half the day, on studio time. There was no pressure.

I Want You Still: Celebrating 40 Years of Marvin Gaye’s Sensual Classic | Pitchfork

The Weird Global Appeal of Heavy Metal

The explosion of local bands around the world tends to track rising living standards and Internet use. Making loud music is expensive: You need electric guitars, amplifiers, speakers, music venues and more leisure time. “When economic development happens, metal scenes appear. They’re like mushrooms after the rain,” says Roy Doron, an African history professor at Winston-Salem State University.

The Weird Global Appeal of Heavy Metal

That Ominous Pulse

I’ve noticed a few recent movies with electro-ish scores that feature some sort of pulse or buzz or building waves of raw sound. Not especially melodic, just a persistent, engulfing motif that swallows you up.

From *Upstream Color*, one of my favorite soundtrack moments in recent memory, “As If It Would Have A Universal And Memorable Ending”:

From *Gone Girl*, “Consummation”:

And recently in *Ex Machina*, there’s the last minute or so of “Hacking/Cutting”:

The last two especially remind me of the opening few seconds of Yeezus. I’m sure I’m missing some other good examples?

The Dark Science of Pop Music

The Dark Science of Pop Music

Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste

I read Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, and it’s probably my favorite book of the year so far. Like Wilson, I never cared that much for Céline Dion’s music, and hadn’t tried to care, but I came away with a new appreciation for where she came from and some of her shrewd business moves. But it’s not just about the music and industry angle, the good stuff is how he uses Dion as the pivot to talk about taste, and all the baggage that informs our opinions.

Much of this book is about reasonable people carting around cultural assumptions that make them assholes to millions of strangers.

So this is right in my wheelhouse, as taste and opinions are two of my favorite tags here. Some favorite parts…

On pop criticism and critical reevaluation:

If critics were so wrong about disco in the 1970s, why not about Britney Spears now? Why did pop music have to get old before getting a fair shake?

And later, trying to fight your instincts and keep an open mind:

If guilty pleasures are out of date, perhaps the time has come to conceive of a guilty displeasure. This is not like the nagging regret I have about, say, never learning to like opera. My aversion to Dion more closely resembles how put off I feel when someone says they’re pro-life or a Republican: intellectually I’m aware how personal and complicated such affiliations can be, but my gut reactions are more crudely tribal.

On the acknowledged fakeness of shows like American Idol:

For all the show’s concentration on character and achievement, it is not about the kind of self-expression critics tend to praise as real. It celebrates […] “authentic inauthenticity”, the sense of showbiz known and enjoyed as a genuine fake, in a time when audiences are savvy enough to realize image-construction is an inevitability and just want it to be fun. “Authentic inauthenticity” is really just another way of saying “art”, but people caught up in romantic ideals still bristle to admit how much of creativity is being able to manipulate artifice.

On conformity of opinion:

The bias that “conformity” is a pejorative has led, I think, to underestimating the part mimesis – imitation – plays in taste. It’s always other people following crowds, whereas my own taste reflects my specialness.

On middlebrow:

Middle brow is the new lowbrow – mainstream taste the only taste for which you still have you say you’re sorry. And there, taste seems less an aesthetic question than, again, a social one: among the thousands of varieties of aesthetes and geeks and hobbyists, each with their special-ordered cultural diet, the abiding mystery of mainstream culture is, “Who the hell are those people?”

In a section that ties in the work of Pierre Bourdieu, a bit on class and the varieties of capital:

One of Bourdieu’s most striking notions is that there’s also an inherent antagonism between people in fields structured mainly by cultural capital and those in fields where there is primarily economic capital: while high-ranking artists and intellectuals are part of the dominant class in society thanks to their education and influence, they are a dominated segment of that class compared to actual rich people. This helps explain why so many artists, journalists and academics can see themselves as anti-establishment subversives while most of the public sees them as smug elitists.

I love this section on the double-standards about the emotional content of music, especially when it comes to things like sentimentality, tenderness, etc.

Cliché certainly might be an aesthetic flaw, but it’s not what sets sentimentality apart in pop music, or there wouldn’t be a primitive band every two years that’s hailed for bringing rock “back to basics”. Such double-standards arise everywhere for sentimental music: excess, formulaism, two-dimensionality can all be positives for music that is not gentle and conciliatory, but infuriated and rebellious. You could say punk rock is anger’s schmaltz.

In a section talking about all the ways we can love a song, a reminder:

You can only feel all these sorts of love if you’re uncowed by the questions of whether a song will stand the “test of time”, which implies that to pass away, to die, is to fail (and that taste is about making predictions). You can’t feel them if you’re looking for the one record you would take to a desert island, a scenario designed to strip the conviviality from the aesthetic imagination.

And another one:

When we do make judgements, though, the trick would be to remember that they are contingent, hailing from one small point in time and in society. It’s only a rough draft of art history: it always could be otherwise, and usually will be. The thrill is that as a rough draft, it is always up for revision, so we are constantly at risk of our minds being changed – the promise that lured us all to art in the first place.

While I’m wrapping up, I should mention two things those excerpts don’t capture well: 1) the long, smooth, winding essay feel, as it all snaps into place so nicely, and 2) a lot of fascinating detail on Céline Dion herself. She’s a pro.

This book would pair really nicely with two other books I’ve loved: Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America, a sort of historical/sociological exploration of class and taste, and The Age of the Infovore, which runs with the idea of open-mindedness and how we’re all so damn lucky to have so much culture at our fingertips.


Demo of Beat It composed using only Michael Jackson’s voice

As Jackson couldn’t fluently play any instruments, he would sing and beatbox out how he wanted his songs to sound by himself on tape, layering the vocals, harmonies and rhythm before having instrumentalists come in to complete the songs.

One of his engineers Robmix on how Jackson worked: “One morning MJ came in with a new song he had written overnight. We called in a guitar player, and Michael sang every note of every chord to him. “here’s the first chord first note, second note, third note. Here’s the second chord first note, second note, third note”, etc., etc. We then witnessed him giving the most heartfelt and profound vocal performance, live in the control room through an SM57. He would sing us an entire string arrangement, every part. Steve Porcaro once told me he witnessed MJ doing that with the string section in the room. Had it all in his head, harmony and everything. Not just little eight bar loop ideas. he would actually sing the entire arrangement into a micro-cassette recorder complete with stops and fills.”

Reasons why I laugh when people say he wasn’t a real musician.

Dang. Dude was good.

Kanye West

I was a music producer, and everyone was telling me that I had no business becoming a rapper, so it gave me the opportunity to tell everyone, “Hey, I need some time to recover.” But during that recovery period, I just spent all my time honing my craft and making The College Dropout. Without that period, there would have been so many phone calls and so many people putting pressure on me from every direction—so many people I somehow owed something to—and I would have never had the time to do what I wanted to.

Kanye West

I Started a Joke: “PBR&B” and What Genres Mean Now | Pitchfork

This is what genres do really well, for good and for ill: They make large amounts of music easier to talk about (and, by extension, sell). Most often, genres do not stand up to scrutiny, yet they’re a fundamental part not only of music discussions online and off, but of any conversations we have about culture more generally. Particularly with the infinite online options for music access and conversation, pithy and memorable genre names can make it easier (if not necessarily accurate) to classify, discuss, and compare music. Genres arise out of tastes, and are often institutionalized (I wrote about one such example here), though online there’s infinitely more space to create, market, sort and search by micro-genres. (Remember “witch house”?) People have lengthy, years-long arguments using genres as combatants. If nothing else, genres make music easier to fight about.

I Started a Joke: “PBR&B” and What Genres Mean Now | Pitchfork