Classical music’s greatest shitty reviews
04.16.2014
09:43 am

Topics:
Books
Music

Tags:
Strauss
Liszt
Debussy
Beethoven
Nicolas Slonimsky
Lexicon of Musical Invective
P.D.Q. Bach
Peter Schickele


 
I’ve long felt that dismissive asshole music writers can be every bit as valuable as thoughtful and rigorous ones. Yes, a think piece on why it’s important that so-and-so’s reunion album is held as a disappointment by the cognoscenti and what that consensus might say about the cultural priorities of a generation can be thought provoking and illuminating, and I’m absolutely going to read that piece. But sometimes I only need to hear from the smugging, brickbat-lobbing prick who’ll just flat out tell me that a record is dog shit and that my money would be better spent on maybe a nice lunch. When the ‘zine explosion hit in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I always particularly enjoyed titles like Forced Exposure, Your Flesh, and Motorbooty, some of whose writers would just absolutely SAVAGE a band for being even slightly sub-par—not because I had any particular hardon to see sincere creative strivers get slammed, but because these mags’ ranks were swelling with Bangs/Meltzer aspirants who did their best to be really damn clever with their invective. I succumbed to that temptation, myself, in my youth as an embryonic writer. Not gonna lie, ill-tempered nastiness could be (oh, who am I kidding with the past tense, still is) a great deal of fun, so long as it wasn’t a crutch, and I got validation for it from readers who found such caustic bastardy engaging and funny.

But a book I picked up back in the early oughts revealed to me a tradition for brutal critical smartassery reaching back long before the rock era. Nicolas Slonimsky’s Lexicon of Musical Invective, originally published in 1953, but revived with new editions in 1965 and 2000, contains hundreds of pages of critical blasts, going as far back as the turn of the 19th Century, at works that later became untouchables in the classical music canon. I’m normally one to seek out the oldest edition of a book I can affordably get my hands on, but in the case of the Lexicon, the 2000 publication not only holds the advantage of still being in print, it has a wonderful foreword by Peter “P.D.Q. Bach” Schickele, from whence:

It is a widely known fact—or, at least, a widely held belief—that negative criticism is more entertaining to read than enthusiastic endorsement. There is certainly no doubt that many critics write pans with an unbridled gusto that seems to be lacking in their (usually rarer) raves, and these critics often become more famous, or infamous, than their less caustic colleagues.

Most of us feel constrained, in person, to say politely pleasant things to creative artists no matter what we think of their work; perhaps this penchant of ours endows blisteringly bad reviews with a cathartic strength…

And perhaps much of the appeal of the Lexicon to a classical-music dilettante like me lies in how it’s all the more entertaining to read slams on works that are so long-embedded in our culture, so widely regarded as timeless works of surpassing genius, that it’s hard to even imagine some grump throughly torpedoing them.
 

 
On Richard Strauss’ Salome:

“A reviewer…should be an embodied conscience stung into righteous fury by the moral stench with which Salome fills the nostrils of humanity, but, though it makes him retch, he should be sufficiently judicial in his temperament to calmly look at the drama in all its aspects and determine whether or not as a whole it is an instructive note on the life and culture of the times and whether or not this exudation from the diseased and polluted will and imagination of the authors marks a real advance in artistic expression.”
—H.E. Krehbiel, New York Tribune, January 23,1907

“I am a man of middle life who has devoted upwards of twenty years to the practice of a profession that necessitates a daily intimacy with degenerates. I say after deliberation that Salome is a detailed and explicit exposition of the most horrible, disgusting, revolting, and unmentionable features of degeneracy that I have ever heard, read of, or imagined.”
—letter to the New York Times, January 21, 1907
 

 
On Claude Debussy’s La Mer:

“M. Debussy wrote three tonal pictures under the general title of The Sea… It is safe to say that few understood what they heard and few heard anything they understood… There are no themes distinct and strong enough to be called themes. There is nothing in the way of even a brief motif that can be grasped securely enough by the ear and brain to serve as a guiding line through the tonal maze. There is no end of queer and unusual effects in orchestration, no end of harmonic combinations and progressions that are so unusual that they sound hideously ugly.”
—W.L. Hubbard, Chicago Tribune, January 30, 1909

“We believe that Shakespeare means Debussy’s ocean when he speaks of taking up arms against a sea of troubles. It may be possible, however, that in the transit to America, the title of this work has been changed. It is possible that Debussy did not intend to cal it La Mer, but Le Mal de Mer, which would at once make the tone-picture as clear as day. It is a series of symphonic pictures of sea sickness.”
—Louis Elson, Boston Daily Advertiser, April 22 1907
 
More shitty reviews after the jump…
 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Chinese space babies, the taikonaut tykes of the future!
04.16.2014
07:45 am

Topics:
Art

Tags:
China
space


Little Guests in the Moon Palace, 1972 
 
You may recall a post I did a while back on Soviet holiday cards and their predilection for space travel. If you were able to get past the whole “Santa on a rocket ship” motif, you might have also noticed the prevalence of a little boy in cosmonaut get-up, another symbol of the USSR’s vision of an exciting future of fantastic technological advances—one which awaited all good little Soviet children. In the US, of course, the space race was a far more sober affair. NASA didn’t really produce this kind of propaganda, beyond some (admittedly very cool) space colony concept art. So while the US promoted a much more “dignified” view of space technology, Soviet space imagery was much more familiar.

However, Chinese space propaganda makes the Soviet stuff look like military school. Progress is commonly represented by children and technology in a lot of nationalist art, but the Chinese child taikonauts are a step beyond. This stuff is so kid friendly, it had toys, puppies, bunnies, and all manner of toddler-friendly spacecraft. Perhaps hoping to excite the younger generations, these pieces abandon almost any semblance of science fiction and go straight to fantasy. 
 

Take the Spaceship and Tour the Universe, 1962
 

Bringing his playmates to the stars, 1980
 
More space babies after the jump…
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
UFO, weird weather, birds… or an angry god? That mysterious black ring in the sky, explained
04.16.2014
06:09 am

Topics:
Amusing

Tags:
UFOs

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You may have read about the mysterious “big black ring” that recently appeared in the sky over Leamington Spa, near Warwick Castle in England?

The strange black halo was captured by 16-year-old schoolgirl Georgina Heap on her iPhone, as it appeared overhead whilst she was playing tennis with her mother, Jo. The ring floated in the air for several minutes, before disappearing. When Georgina shared the footage with the British media, it led to considerable debate as to what the mysterious circle could possibly be?

Was it possibly something to do with the weather, a rain cloud perhaps? The Met Office said no, it was not weather related.

Was it a UFO? Nick Pope, an expert on UFOs and former government advisor, said no, it looked more organic in form.

Was the black ring was made up by thousands of swarming insects, or possibly birds?

And lastly and most unlikely, was the ominous black ring a sign of a disgruntled deity calling time on humanity….?

None of these answers seemed to fit (especially the last one) and a search for what could have caused the hovering halo led to considerable debate on social media and television as to what exactly had Georgina filmed?

Well, all can now be revealed, and while some sticklers were hoping for a close encounter with some alien intelligence, the mysterious circle has turned out to be nothing more than a puff of smoke caused by fireworks launched from nearby Warwick Castle.

BBC News reports that a spokesman from Warwick Castle explained on Tuesday afternoon that they had been testing “fire effects” to go with the daily firing of the Trebuchet Fireball—a giant catapult.

“We’ve seen a number of different effects, including the vortex images that have been reported,” the spokesman said. “As yet we don’t know what causes the phenomenon but it’s certainly a spooky spectacle.”

So, there you have it, no UFOs, no god, and certainly no treason, or plot. Just a little gunpowder.
 

 
Via BBC News

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Watch Lou Reed interview his 100-year-old Polish immigrant cousin in his short film, ‘Red Shirley’
04.16.2014
05:57 am

Topics:
Movies

Tags:
Lou Reed
Red Shirley


Lou Reed and his 100-year-old cousin, “Red” Shirley Novick
 
Lou Reed’s deeply personal directorial debut does not ease the audience into its heavy subject matter slowly. In the very first shot, we see his cousin Shirley Novick on her 100th birthday. She dedicates the film to her hometown in Poland, and the Jews that once resided there. She says she wants to talk about her family who died in the Holocaust, along with all the Jews of her town, and she thanks her cousin for the opportunity to tell her story. Off-camera you hear Lou’s unmistakable voice, “Is that the statement?” She nods and he gives a little applause.

What follows is the recounting of a truly fascinating life. During World War Two, Shirley’s town was under siege, and she remembers hiding in the Russian church as a child while Russian and German troops fought it out. At 19 she left Poland with two suitcases and settled in Montreal for six months. Finding it too “provincial,” she left for New York—Lou laughs a little at the idea of a 19- year-old-girl from the shtetl finding someplace “too provincial.” With the help of an uncle, Shirley found work in New York’s infamously exploitative garment industry—she was a real live factory girl. What followed was 47 years of ardent labor activism—she even joined the 1963 civil rights march on Washington. Despite her hand in fighting for a more just United States, she never became a legal citizen, on principle.

Despite the struggle and tragedy throughout her life, Red Shirley is ultimately a very warm film, and not without levity. At one point she recounts a shell hitting her family’s home that failed to detonate and how they just left it in the wall unable to remove it. Perhaps a little overwhelmed by the brutal conditions of Shirley’s early life, Lou just starts laughing, saying, “This is terrible.” He also replies with a lot of “You can’t be serious,” and “You’re joking,” and it seems not so much from actual disbelief, but from that incredulity one feels when they hear a very intense personal story. Lou is visibly tickled by her company, and witnessing their affectionate conversation is an intimate experience. The film is both technically and emotionally lovely.
 

 
Via Open Culture

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment