24 July 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.07.23

Friday: U.S. lags in college degrees; more on tenure (and finally some light); annals of copywrong; the history of the study of prejudice; the science of morality; major depression impairs processing of emotions in music; jazzed-up Chopin; tools for exploring texts; so where is all that oil going, anyway?; UK changes rules so that Pope won't be arrested.
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23 July 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.07.22

Thursday (100th Post!): more heat (and little light) on tenure; RIAA files appeal over Tenenbaum award; blurring the concepts of counterfeiting and copyright infringement; the earliest dog jawbone?; tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson has died; Timothy Andres reimagines K. 537; Leopold Museum pays $19 million to settle "Wally" case.
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22 July 2010

Listening in Roslindale

What does a recovering musicologist listen to after escaping the straitjacket of professional expectations?

Pretty much everything he can get his hands on.

A partial list of my listening over the past two weeks:

Memphis Slim: The Folkways Years, 1959-1973
King Sunny Ade, Seven Degrees North
Champion Jack Dupree, Walking the Blues: Greatest Hits
Charles Mingus, The Complete Town Hall Concert
Charlie Parker, Early Bird (The Best of the 1945 Studio Recordings)
West African Music: The Rough Guide
The Mothers of Invention, Absolutely Free

Otis Redding Sings Soul and Otis Blue
Sam Cooke’s SAR Records Story

Thelonious Monk, The Complete Riverside Recordings, first 3 CDs

Classic Blues from Smithsonian Folkways
Classic Blues from Smithsonian Folkways, vol. 2

Lots of wonderful stuff.

I'm slowly working my way through pretty much the complete recordings of Monk in connection with my plan to write a review of Robin Kelley's biography (which is, by the way, on my Amazon wishlist, and is currently selling for a steep discount).  I've been a Monk fan since high school, but had no idea of the range and variety of his pianism.  I'm continually astonished and often laugh in surprised delight as I listen to these.  The album of Ellington covers is outstanding.

I am completely knocked out by both the Mingus Town Hall Concert and the Mothers of Invention, Absolutely Free, neither of which I'd heard.  Mingus at his best was an extraordinary composer, as this concert showed.  Absolutely Free sounds astonishingly contemporary. Perhaps we're finally beginning to catch up to Frank Zappa.

The Rough Guide to West African Music is an excellent sampler, and I love the music.

Memphis Slim is a great blues and boogie pianist of the old school.  I think pretty much every piece on the CD is in C major.

Early Bird was a great nostalgia trip for me; it contains some of the first Parker recordings that I ever heard or owned, back when I was in high school.  Some of them (the recordings with Slam Stewart, for example) I hadn't heard in decades.

Sam Cooke and Otis are, of course, wonderful.

(My life is hardly devoid of classical music: I spend several hours a day playing Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Debussy....)

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Fun with Google Translate

games with words suggests the following game with Google's translation tool:
Idea: type in sentence in English. The site then queries Google Translator, translating into Japanese and then back again until it reaches "equilibrium," where the sentence you get out is the sentence you put in. Some sentences just never converge. Ten points to whoever finds the most interesting non-convergence.
This seemed like a golden opportunity to avoid productive work, so naturally I jumped at the chance.

I didn't actually follow the rules (I used languages other than Japanese), and I haven't yet found any examples of non-convergence (so no 10 points for me).

But here are my results. Naturally the first thing that came to mind to use was the opening sentence of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, one of the most famous opening lines in all of English literature:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
All of my experiments converged quickly, within two to three rounds:

Hungarian (chosen on personal historical grounds)
 It is a generally accepted truth that a man possession of good fortune, I have a wife.
Czech
It is widely acknowledged truth that the only man in own good fortune, must be the lack of a wife.
Arabic
It is universally recognized fact that one man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. 
 Russian
It is unanimously recognized that one person possession of good fortune, must be the absence of his wife.
[Which rather changes the sense .... and makes an interesting contrast with the Hungarian]
  Hebrew
Is truth universally acknowledged that a man possession of good fortune, must be like for his wife.
 Yiddish (which for some reason ended up with a Yiddish accent)
It is a true universalli akknovledged that a single person in possession of a good fortune, must its in need of a woman.
And for the grand finale, I took the phrase through the sequence English-Hungarian-Czech-Arabic-Russian-Hebrew-English (I omitted Yiddish because I didn't want the added accent):
It is the truth about this man, possession of happiness, be a woman.
 And that is the end of my scientific research for the day.

[UPDATE: the comments thread on the original post at games with words has lots of interesting examples (all using the original Japanese version of the game), including Chomsky's "colorless green ideas sleep furiously," the final sentence of On the Origin of Species, and the opening sentence of Finnegans Wake, as well as my own modest contribution, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (the subject, as you old-timers will know, of a famous old joke/anecdote about machine translation).
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Daily Digest, 2010.07.21

Wednesday: Niemann fellow denied visa; Techdirt on copyright, copywrong, and publishing; Michael Geist on the current ACTA draft; a French venture in "crowdfunded" literature; the eternal memory of the Web; the role (not) of mirror neurons in speech perception; life without language; videos from the conference "Religion and Tolerance"; philosophical dustup over statistical models in the social sciences; Richard King on C. P. Snow, and the current relationship of literature and science; Mozart fiction corner; BP also Photoshops incompetently; update on Kafka's papers; Gene Kelly dances on roller skates.
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Happy Birthday, Dear [Insert your name here]

In honor of the recent birthday of my friend Michael Lorenz:

Stefany Anne Golberg has a piece in the current issue of The Smart Set on "Happy Birthday To You," probably the world's most famous song—and also, arguably (because there are so many to choose from), the most egregious example of the utter absurdity of current copyright law.

Golberg gives this latter aspect of the story relatively short shrift.  For a good summary of the history of the song and its copyright, see the Wikipedia article "Happy Birthday To You."

The executive summary: in 1893, sisters Patty and Mildred J. Hill published their song "Good Morning to All" (with the familiar "Happy Birthday" melody), which is now in the public domain (no one disputes this). As the Wikipedia article points out, "Good Morning to All" was closely based on prior songs and words in any case.

At some point, the sisters began informally to use the alternative "Birthday" words at birthday parties. However, they didn't copyright this version.

This version of the song was copyrighted in 1935 as a "work for hire" by Preston Ware Orem for Summy (later Summy Birchard), and these "rights" are currently "owned" by Warner Music:
The company continues to insist that one cannot sing the "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics for profit without paying royalties: in 2008, Warner collected about $5000 per day ($2 million per year) in royalties for the song. This includes use in film, television, radio, anywhere open to the public, or even among a group where a substantial number of those in attendance are not family or friend to whoever is performing the song.
And further:
Based on the 1935 copyright registration, Warner claims that U.S. copyright will not expire until 2030, and that unauthorized public performances of the song are technically illegal unless royalties are paid to it. In one specific instance in February 2010, these royalties were said to amount to $700.
But one would think that there is an evident problem here, since Preston Ware Orem did not, in fact, write the song.

Robert Brauneis's comprehensive legal study of the copyright of "Happy Birthday" is freely available, and anyone interested in the tangled history should read it. His conclusion (almost certainly correct): the song is not actually under copyright because the registration of 1935 was invalid.

But because there is no penalty or sanction of any kind for pursuing false claims of copyright, and because corporations like Warner have such deep pockets, it is virtually impossible for anyone to fight their false (and frankly downright absurd) claim.

And so we keep paying and paying, and musicians who might occasionally perform the song in public have to pretend that they don't. And they never mention that they've done so in print or online, because the catacombs of the "rights holders" are full of trolls who spend their time tracking down just this sort of crime.

Fortunately, I've never played it in public, of course. Nope. Not me.

A recent example of the absurdity of this situation, from my personal experience:

As a sometime teacher of adult beginners on piano, I have often used, ever since it appeared, the two-volume series Adult Piano Adventures by Nancy and Randall Faber. It includes lots of songs that adults know and like, in a variety of styles and genres, and the songs often include duet parts for the teacher that allow the student to participate in playing some harmonically pretty sophisticated arrangements from an early stage.

A couple of years ago, I discovered to my horror (through one of my students, who was attempting
to buy one of the volumes, at my recommendation) that the series had been taken off the market. Further investigation found that it had been taken off the market because of copyright issues
(even though songs in the original volumes had relevant copyright information appended
 wherever applicable).

Fortunately, it turned out the contents of the volumes were being slightly retooled to cope with the claims, and they are now available again.

I don't know the full extent of the copyright issues involved, but one evidently had to do with "Happy Birthday,"  for there was a change to the status of the song in the revised version of volume 1.

The song had been placed about half-way through the original version of the volume, with a copyright notice. In the revised version, the tune still appears, but now with the idiotic substitute words "Happy Weekend to You." And no copyright notice.

(I would suppose, technically, the copyright on this new text belongs to the Fabers or their publishers, so you will need to contact them if you wish to perform it in public.)

So apparently the relevant lawyers decided that the tune wasn't under a defensible copyright, but the words are. The words are, lest you forget (I quote in full from Golberg's piece, so sue her, not me):
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday, dear (name)
Happy birthday to you!
And for this, Warner makes $2 million dollars a year.

I think, however, that I should be able to recover from Warner a royalty of at least $15,000 every time the song is sung with my name inserted.  And the rest of you might want to do the same.

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21 July 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.07.20

Tuesday: the future of tenure; the future of AI; more on extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation; depression dulls the senses; more on Wade on very recent human evolution; the co-evolution of humans and their animals; the olm; why music is good for you; classical music is in great health—really, it is (at least Heather Mac Donald thinks so); Varèse and jazz; another day another Caravaggio attribution; the ongoing saga of Kafka's papers.

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20 July 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.07.19

Monday, Monday: the history and mathematics of voting systems; The Washington Post reports on "Top Secret America"; books in progress online (sort of); a group blog on artists and creative rights; NYT says government should regulate Google's search algorithm (aieee!); an incompetent trademark troll; memorizing Paradise Lost; how superstitions help performance; how do I really, really feel? (don't ask me, I'd be the last to know); don't trust them dang furriners when they give directions; evolution and morality; are we evolved for war?; Bolles on Fitch's The Evolution of Language; really recent human evolution; the history of evolution; homeopathy in Europe; same-sex marriage and first-cousin marriage; Everest glaciers are melting, melting (oh what a world); Callow reviews Rosen; Tim Parks on words and the construction of self; Mendeley.
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19 July 2010

Weekend Roundup, 17-18 July 2010

This Weekend: Review of The German Genius; Netanyahu admits sabotaging Oslo; the stray dogs of Sofia; more on Saadanius; weird mammal headgear; the genetics of Down syndrome; evolutionary approaches to fiction; confirmation bias; Institutional Repositories; the history of obsenicons; Wendy Allanbrook RIP; review of Lebrecht on Mahler; they paid Maazel how much?; Adam Kirsch reviews two new books on E. M. Forster; voice actor Billy West; Dick Cavett on Arthur Godfrey.

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18 July 2010

Così fan tutti, ovvero La scuola dei critici

I used to be a musicologist. I have a Ph.D. in the subject (although current wisdom has it that I should omit that degree from any CV I use in a "real world" job search), and I spent roughly a quarter century training, researching, and attempting to be employed in it. I might be doing it still, if anyone had responded to any of my hundreds of job applications over the past four years.

But after several years of having my applications treated with all the respect usually given to spamvertisements for Viagra and pleas for help from dispossessed Nigerian royalty (actually, my applications got many fewer hits than the latter seem to), I saw the handwriting on the wall, and hung up my spurs. (Although, I hasten to add: I will be delighted to consider any reasonable offers or follow any reasonable leads.)

As I've written elsewhere on this blog (and will doubtlessly write again), the transition has not been all bad. It has, among other things, allowed me to follow where my interest leads in the wider world of music, art, and intellectual endeavor, rather than fitting myself to the Procrustean bed of a marginal academic discipline. And that has been glorious, if not remunerative.

After I was raptured out of musicology (the analogy seems apt, given the way my former employer David Packard terminated my employment), two points quickly became clear:
  1. There's a lot of fascinating research and writing being done on music, almost none of it by musicologists.

  2. Musicology has virtually no public presence in the wider world. Not even musicians pay attention to it, and to the world beyond, "musicology" is the name of an album by Prince.
By current count, I subscribe to 90 blogs, covering a wide range of topics: cognition, neuroscience, evolution, general science, literature, film, music, and the arts, and every day I scan numerous other blogs, digests, and news sites, including the arts news digest ArtsJournal (and its blogs), the general "intellectual" digests Arts & Letters Daily and The Browser, and (once a week) the digests of European journals and feuilletons at signandsight.

And out of all these, over the 8 weeks that I have been keeping this blog (today, as it happens, is the 56-day anniversary), I have run across precisely one story that seems to touch on anything that has to do with my former field: a piece by Brett Campbell in this past Thursday's Wall Street Journal under the headline "Restoring Bach," on oboist Gonzalo Ruiz, who claims to have shown that J. S. Bach's Orchestral Suite in B minor, BWV 1067, with solo flute, actually originated as a piece in A minor with solo oboe.

That's the sort of thing I spent a large chunk of my life thinking and reading about, so naturally I read it.

Now, in spite of the ostensibly musicological headline, Campbell's piece is actually a review of a concert that Ruiz and Monical Huggett gave with the Portland Baroque Orchestra at the Oregon Bach Festival, entitled "Bach's Suites Rediscovered," performed in Bend on 7 July and in Eugene the following evening (this detailed information comes from the festival schedule; the concert title and the dates aren't specified in Campbell's review).

After living for many years in the world of musicology and Early Music, I've developed an alarm system, sort of a "Musicological BS Detector," that blares urgently whenever anyone claims to have "rediscovered" anything. For such claims usually turn out to be marketing and attempts at career-enhancement tricked out to sound like scholarship, rather than actual scholarship.

And that would seem to be the case here. But Campbell seems to have bought into the marketing wholesale, rather than engaging in even rudimentary investigation of the background of Ruiz's claim.

A couple of quotes from Campbell's review to set the stage. First, the opening sentence.
Gonzalo Ruiz is always on the lookout for another piece to add to his repertoire.
This, following directly on the headline "Restoring Bach," already had my MBSD blaring. As a general rule, Early Music performers looking for pieces to add to their repertoires are not to be trusted when making ostensibly musicological arguments. It's a rather like doctors in the pocket of Big Pharma writing articles on new antidepressants.

Campbell continues:
Mr. Ruiz set to work, and in the process wound up reconstructing what might be one of the lost treasures of classical music: the original version of one of Bach's—and music's—greatest achievements. Mr. Ruiz's recording of the ur- versions of all the suites—restored to their original glory using authentic tunings, instrumentation and performance styles—with his fellow Juilliard faculty member Monica Huggett's Ensemble Sonnerie, earned a 2009 Grammy nomination.
A "lost treasure of classical music"? "Original version"? Now I have a very bad feeling about this.

But this sentence also suggests that what Campbell is "reporting" here isn't new: apparently Ruiz and Huggett have already recorded it. And in fact, Ruiz has been shopping around the idea of an A-minor version of BWV 1067 for oboe since at least 2005, when he published a piece on it in Early Music America, as one can find out simply by Googling "bach oboe 1067 ruiz." However, there's no mention of this prior history in Campbell's review.

Campbell goes on to summarize Ruiz's argument, rather less clearly than Ruiz himself does in the piece from 2005. Campbell's main points:
[Paraphrasing:] There are other pieces by Bach that have come down to us in something other than their likely original form
Well, that's certainly true enough.
Scholars believe that the familiar trumpets and drums in the third and fourth suites, which overwhelm the other instruments, were added to the original versions for performances in different incarnations, and that the popular second suite in B minor descended from an original work in A minor, transposed and copied by Bach and assistants for a later performance.
But who are these "scholars"? No word on this from Campbell.

Well then, why might we think the piece was written for the oboe?
One clue: the enchanting flute part in the surviving version is pitched so low that it's difficult to play. And in what Mr. Ruiz terms "an orchestrational oddity," its line is pitched below those of the violins (unprecedented in Bach or contemporaneous flute music), making it hard to hear in concert, and sounding outsized when artificially enhanced on recordings
Hmmm. The argument that the flute part is "difficult to play" doesn't seem all that compelling (a lot of Bach is difficult to play), and that the flute is hard to hear in a modern concert or recording certainly doesn't have anything to do with the fact of the matter.

Campbell goes on:
By contrast, not only did Mr. Ruiz's transposition fit the oboe snugly—"it was almost too perfect," he recalls—the revision suddenly solved a whole slew of musical conundrums that had flummoxed Bach lovers for centuries. Performing it in A minor is much more comfortable for the accompanying string instruments to play, and allows the oboe, with its piercing sound and distinctive timbre, to soar above the accompanying strings—the most common texture in Baroque orchestral music.
The fact that the transposition "fits the oboe snugly" can of course be taken as suggestive circumstantial evidence that the oboe might have been the solo instrument if Bach originally wrote the piece in A minor. But the point is anecdotal and subjective, and certainly not sufficient evidence to "prove" the point. Campbell shows no hint of being sensitive to this distinction.

And from this point forward, Campbell takes Ruiz's case as proved. His review continues with the following bizarre sequence:
The significance of Mr. Ruiz's achievement transcends even Bach's masterpiece, reminding previously skeptical scholars and performers that "in Bach's time, the oboe was considered to be the electric guitar of the 18th century, truly a virtuosic vehicle in the right hands," Mr. Ruiz says, "and there were plenty of right hands around. I hope this [reconstruction] stretches expectations of the Baroque oboe."
Ultimately, the proof is in the hearing.
"The significant of Mr. Ruiz's achievement transcends even Bach's masterpiece"? Does this mean that we should stop listening to the B-minor Suite and instead treat Ruiz's piece in Early Music America as a major work of the literary canon?

I suppose that Campbell actually meant something like: "The implications of Mr. Ruiz's discovery go far beyond Bach's Suite." But this isn't what he wrote. (And why didn't an editor catch this and fix it? File this as yet another example of editorial incompetence in the Mainstream Media.)

And, no, ultimately the proof is not in the hearing, but in the actual evidence.

I love Bach: I heard Bach in the womb (my mother is an organist, who tells me I used to kick along with Bach's pedal parts) and Bach forms a core part of my repertoire as a pianist.

But I don't consider myself a Bach scholar, in spite of having worked for three years on the complete edition of the works of his hugely less gifted son, Carl Philipp Emanuel. (I've often asked myself: Why is it that Johann Sebastian seems unable to write even a throwaway inner voice that is anything less than beautifully and memorably melodic, whereas C.P.E., so far as I can tell, never wrote a memorable melody in his entire career...with the possible exception of those early keyboard pieces from the Anna Magdalena Notebook that are now attributed to him. Perhaps their very memorability should count as evidence against the attribution.)

Thus my personal reference library on Bach is relatively small, and (as I incessantly whine here), I have no access to a proper research library.

But I wondered what I might find via Google Scholar on the question of the "original" key and instrumentation of Bach's Suite.

It took somewhat less than 3 minutes (a 3 minutes Campbell apparently couldn't spare?) to find a reference to Joshua Rifkin's "The 'B-minor flute suite' deconstructed: new light on Bach's Ouverture BWV 1067," in Bach Perspectives 6 (2007). A partial preview of the volume is available at Google Books.

Rifkin's finding? That the B-minor version of BWV 1067 almost certainly derives from an earlier version in A minor. How do we know? Because of telltale transposition and notational errors in the only surviving source for BWV 1067 that has anything directly to do with Bach, a set of "original" parts in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (ST 154), in which the flute part and the viola part are entirely in Bach's hand, and in which his hand occurs frequently along with other scribes in the other parts.

And here is what Rifkin has to say in a note about the history of his Bach Perspectives paper:
This essay, originally scheduled for publication in Bach Perspectives 4 and completed in something very close to its present form by the autumn of 1997, became a casualty of editorial upheavals and software problems; it appears now thanks to the persistence, encouragement, and, in the end, forbearance of Gregory Butler. I presented a version at the Bach Symposium held at the University of Dortmund in January 1996 .... Reports of my findings surfaced at various places soon after the Dortmund meeting, among which I would note references in BOW 5, 29 n. 4 and 31, and Wolfgang Hirschmann's report in Die Musikforschung 49 (1996): 407-8, at 408.....
So Rifkin obviously has priority in making the claim and substantiating the case that there was an earlier version of BWV 1067 in A minor. He had made this case in public as early as 1996, and his case had been reported in various places in the musicological literature long before the appearance of his article in Bach Perspectives, and long before this was even a gleam in Ruiz's eye.

However, there is no reference to Rifkin in Ruiz's 2005 piece in Early Music America, and there is no reference in Campbell's review, apart from the hand-waving reference to "scholars believe."

What does Rifkin have to say about the solo instrument of this putative earlier version of BWV 1067? Well, it almost certainly wasn't the flute.
Even if we could imagine the solo line written in a way that would avoid the present occurrences of d'—the lowest note on the Baroque flute—in both solo and tutti passages, the overall tessitura would still put the music uncomfortably low for the instrument. (Rifkin 2007, p. 10)
He continues:
The next obvious candidate, the oboe, also appears unlikely. Here, the lower end of the range poses no problem, although a single d#' in a tutti section would have had to be read differently—c#', as it would have become in A minor, does not lie within the capabilities of the Baroque oboe. But the particular sorts of agility required have no parallel in any oboe music of Bach's that I know; and would have to imagine both
And that, readers, is precisely where my preview in Google Books ends, so you'll have to go to your library or dig out your own copy of Bach Perspectives 6 to see find out who dunnit, according to Rifkin.

It's obvious, though, why Ruiz might have wanted to avoid referring to Rifkin's work.

Good scholarship can be such bad marketing.

And, by the way: the flute part of the only surviving "authentic" set of parts (see chapter 4 of my dissertation for a justification of the scare quotes on "authentic") is in Bach's hand.

So there is no argument to be made that the flute version of BMV 1067 is somehow "not authentic."

The Campbell piece is so poor that I can't help but wonder why he is getting paid to write, and I'm not. But then, that seems to be a running theme in this blog.

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