13 February 2015

Ives Concord Sonata

Several years back, I would read Jeremy Denk's blog (Think Denk!) as he was practicing Ives' Second Piano Sonata (sheet music here). It's an early modern work--though from a composer far ahead of the curve--that I should like but I'd never really warmed up to Ives and so never gave it a chance. In college I'd heard a visiting tenor (baritone?) perform Ives' song "General William Booth Enters Into Heaven" (sheet music here) and fell in love with its sheer rock and roll as modernist dissonance and rhythmic cubism. It's colorful, dramatic, wide-ranging, collaged, and allows the piano to speak a separate, orchestrated story from the vocalist. Another one of those Songs I Wish I Would Have Written. Still, nothing else Ives did captivated me.

In a recent article titled "Charles Ives as Improviser", Kyle Gann examines the source material for the sonata as pulled from research for an upcoming book. The sonata consists of four titled movements ("Emerson", "Hawthorne", "The Alcotts", and "Thoreau") and was published in 1919 with a revision published in 1947. The first draft of the Emerson movement was in the form of a piano concerto (the Emerson Concerto) in around 1913, and later reworkings of the first movement to return it to its concerto-state became "Four Transcriptions from Emerson" in the 1920s. As with most composers, themes from the one work appears in multiple places. For the Concord, the themes were also shared in several of his 20+ Studies for piano (these are poorly internet-documented, but I've found reference for at least 22 studies in the set [ updated the next day ] I've updated the Wikipedia page of Ives' compositions with the list of studies. There are 27 with 8 of those being lost.). From the 1930s to 1940s, Ives went into the studio and recorded from across all of these pieces. Kyle Gann's article focuses on those recordings and their provenance in the Emerson stuff based on the transcriptions he's made from them. The article has excerpts of both the recordings (of dismal quality) and Gann's transcriptions (of excellent quality). The efforts at transcription and resulting DNA analysis of the music contained is fascinating.

This weekend shall be a get acquainted with the Concord weekend.

Ives Concord Sonata by Scott D. Strader on Grooveshark
posted by sstrader at 5:13 PM in Music | comments (0) | permalink

25 January 2015

Human VMs

Several months ago, I finished the third book in Hannu Rajaniemi's post-human Jean le Flambeur series. It's a monument of fiction of what-will-happen-when-we-can-upload-consciousness that has social cachet for today's various technological anxieties. Fantastical art as commentary on present day. While researching author interviews and secondary sources after-the-fact, I read one of the author's recommended source articles titled "If Uploads Come First", written in 1994 by Robin Hanson. One key dramatic history, revealed near the end of the Rajaniemi trilogy, was that when brain uploads happened humans became dupe-able VM workers for tasks that algorithms couldn't accomplish. What a computer can't achieve, 5K uploaded brains could be sold into slavery to achieve. The problem that computers can't do X is solved by simply having digitized humans do it by the thousands.

A few years ago, a coworker told me about out-sourced personal assistants. These are 3rd-worlders who will sell their time by the penny to organize your life remotely as best as possible. The concept was as fascinating as it was morally ambiguous, but I never took advantage. How to organize such unlimited resources? This I had encountered before--conceptually--with Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Again, not having partook, the MT offers a marketplace of people-who-will-do-anything with people-who-need-anything-done. Think 1000s of addresses to enter for fractions of pennies an address. People have time and need money, and there is work to do that would be too costly to write a computer program for.

Friday was an argument with the boss about whether a large VM containing multiple server instances was more valuable than multiple, smaller VMs of equal summed potential.

posted by sstrader at 10:53 PM in Internet | comments (0) | permalink

21 December 2014

The strangely enduring power of kitsch

From the article The strangely enduring power of kitsch:

The Czech novelist Milan Kundera made a famous observation. "Kitsch," he wrote, "causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass!" Kitsch, in other words, is not about the thing observed but about the observer. It does not invite you to feel moved by the doll you are dressing so tenderly, but by yourself dressing the doll. All sentimentality is like this - it redirects emotion from the object to the subject, so as to create a fantasy of emotion without the real cost of feeling it [emphasis mine]. The kitsch object encourages you to think, "Look at me feeling this - how nice I am and how lovable." That is why Oscar Wilde, referring to one of Dickens's most sickly death-scenes, said that "a man must have a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell".
posted by sstrader at 4:34 PM in Art | comments (0) | permalink

22 November 2014

Poetry and apocalypse

A few weeks back when the movie Ouija was being advertised, I became curious where the word came from. Apparently, ouija (which I grew up pronouncing as wee-gee for some reason and can't not say it like that) has the improbable etymology of either ancient Egyptian for "good luck" or a combination of French "yes" and German "yes".

While scanning the Wikipedia article, I saw that the poet James Merrill wrote a three-part epic apocalyptic poem, generated from ouija board seances, called The Changing Light at Sandover. The three books, published in 1976, 1978, and 1980, span 560 pages. They were published together with a short coda in 1982 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award the next year. My last attempt at long difficult reading, Joyce's Ulysses, failed, but I had to get this. I have not yet started.

Somewhere I saw Sandover compared to T. S. Eliot's apocalyptic 1922 poem The Waste Land so I ordered the Michael North edited version when I ordered Sandover. I've so far read this short, barely 15-page poem three times and have started picking through the 300 pages of reference material including Baudelaire, James Frazier, Aldous Huxley, and Herman Hesse. Dedicated to Ezra Pound, it reads like infinitely more accessible Pound. I've read a few sections out loud and felt that added much. One connection that bubbled up while taking in Eliot's bleak imagery was Godspeed You! Black Emperor's album F# A# Infinity. I listened to this back in July 2010 and may need to revisit.

File under synchrony: since purchasing The Waste Land, I've been barraged by random references to Eliot and Pound.

posted by sstrader at 10:41 AM in Language & Literature | comments (0) | permalink

5 October 2014

Roman Jakobson's functions of language

Intrigued by the concept of phatic expressions: messages whose only purpose is to confirm the channel is working. The canonical example is when we walk by someone and say "what's up?" No information beyond mutual acknowledgement is communicated. There is a related, nuanced concept called backchannel that represents speaker/listener confirmation. When one person is monologuing, the listener is seldom completely silent. To confirm that the messages are being received (and understood), the listener will nod or punctuate with "yes" or "go on". It's almost impolite not to make such statements, and this ties back into the idea of the phatic as "social grooming".

Moving one level up from phatic, we can see how such statements fit in communication as a whole via Jakobson's functions of language. The framework for these functions are the elements of communication:

Roma jakobson theory.png
"Roma jakobson theory" by Artist2426 - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Different functions of language will emphasize the different elements in the diagram above. Phatic emphasizes the channel. Here's the diagram amended with Jakobson's functions:

Daniel Chandler's Semiotics for Beginners has a good table mapping the element, function, and an example for each. Modified here:

Element Function Use Example
context referential imparting information It's raining.
sender expressive expressing feelings or attitudes It's bloody pissing down again!
receiver conative influencing behaviour Wait here till it stops raining!
channel phatic establishing or maintaining social relationships Nasty weather again, isn't it?
code metalingual referring to the nature of the interaction (e.g. genre) This is the weather forecast.
message poetic foregrounding textual features It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.
posted by sstrader at 10:36 AM in Language & Literature | comments (0) | permalink

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