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Thoughtful analyses of the arts and workplace issues, with some poop jokes

Willy Wonka gets all meta-memey about your stupid Facebook post

A rousing Rigoletto at the Hollywood Bowl, Aug. 12, 2012

I have a “hunch” you will like this review I did for the LA Weekly about a concert performance of Rigoletto at the Hollywood Bowl . BWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA

McKayla Maroney is not impressed with modern art or Christian showboating

Above, and below, my contributions to the “McKayla is not impressed” meme. The editor at the original McKayla is not impressed tumblr was not impressed by these.

“Eight million dollars for THAT?”

My favorite at the original tumblr? This one.

Not everyone is happy with the Curiosity landing

At least The Simpsons gets free publicity on NBC

The 2012 Olympic logo for the Lisa Simpson Cosplay Event

The Olympics committee must be a bunch of filthy rich middle-aged/old guys who are completely clueless about modern culture. They need to acknowledge that their decisions could be radically misinterpreted by the, oh, 98% of the rest of the world that watches TV and surfs the Internet, and hire a couple of snarky twenty-somethings to point out things like, “Hey, that logo looks like Lisa Simpson is blowing some dude.”

Why does Olympic marketing so monstrously suck rotten eggs? Anyone remember that horrible mascot from the Atlanta games? Or Sam the Eagle? The 2012 logo will just be more corporate detritus, flushed down the toilet of our collective memories, where it will rot in the forgotten cesspool of our 15-minute-long culture.

Unequal protection: The rise of corporate dominance and the theft of human rights — Thom Hartmann

An easy-to-read overview of how the founding fathers mistrusted corporations (the Boston Tea Party wasn’t so much about protesting taxes in general as it was about cheap tea was being taxed, forcing colonial merchants to purchase it exclusively from the East India Company; corporate charters were rarely granted at first, and they could be and were revoked by the issuing states when corporations exceeded their authority or corrupted government officials—Andrew Jackson ran on a platform of revoking the charter of the Second National Bank), and how corporations gradually achieved power in the U.S., primarily through the railroads suing for human rights under the 14th amendment, up to the present time, where corporations have created a serious inequity through global treaties which supersede federal laws, and through Supreme Court rulings granting them protections under the Bill of Rights (corporate donations to political campaigns are protected under “Freedom of speech”). I’m not convinced all of Hartmann’s facts are valid, and he often states his own theories for what transpired instead of relying exclusively on contemporary evidence.

The book concludes with the hope that rights never intended for “artifical persons” should be rescinded, and he offers sample laws and constitutional amendments which can be passed at the local and state level, with the aim of bringing a case before the Supreme Court in order to achieve rulings denying corporations human rights.

Truthout appears to have serialized the complete book on their web site.

Recommendation: While Unequal Protection provides a good summary of the rise of corporations in the U.S.,  Gangs of America by Ted Nace covers the same ground with even more history, and is also better researched. If you want to read just one book on the history of corporate power in America, skip Unequal Protection and go straight to Ted Nace’s book.

What classical CDs do you recommend to your friends who know nothing about classical music?

Over at the LA Weekly you may read my list of classical music recordings that one may give to just about any open-minded listener not familiar with the genre. Many of the usual suspects are on it, but some of the recommendations may surprise you.

Check it out here.

I’m curious to learn what recordings you’ve recommended to your friends, in the comments section at the Weekly or immediately below.

Bad Choices and Wilted Flowers

Shortly after I listened to The BasedGod’s new album, Choices and Flowers, my wife desperately attempted to revive me

So my editor at the LA Weekly approaches me about reviewing a new release, Choices and Flowers, by “oddball rapper” Lil B (about whom I knew nothing). He wants me to review it using the toughest classical music standards, and I say, “Sure, I can do it.”

About 2 or 3 minutes into listening to the album, I realize that I’ve heard this music many times in my life. It will be a retired doctor who is now composing music because he has a MIDI keyboard and Sibelius, and he asks me what I think of his piece. Or it will be some hippy-dippy acquaintance who puts on a New-Age instrumental album, promising me how great it is, and it is as dull as an accounting webinar.

What do all three–Lil B, the retired doctor, and the dippy New Age musician–have in common? Lack of training, and it shows–obviously, terribly–in their music.

My review went up at the LA Weekly (read it here), and it’s already become the most insanely popular thing I ever wrote for them. This depresses me to no end when I compare it with the paltry hit rate I receive on stories about John Adams, Louis Andriessen, John Cage, and other great composers of our time.

On iTunes, the fans of Lil B–pardon me, The BasedGod (for that is how Lil B self-identifies on Choices and Flowers)–give it 4-1/2 stars, and consider it greater than anything Mozart, Beethoven, or Steve Reich ever wrote. In the comments to my story, fans hope that Lil B scores movies and opine in all caps that he is a great minimalist composer like Terry Riley or Philip Glass (I can’t tell if the latter fan is serious or pulling my leg).

Some of my observations and jokes did not make it into my Weekly post, so I’m posting them below. You’ll understand them better if you go to the Weekly and read what’s up there post-editing first.

After listening to three or four tracks, it became painfully obvious that Lil B’s method of composing is to drop his hands on the white keys C-B-A-G and just repeat those pitches in that order. Over. And over. And over. Every once in a while I might hear a different note, but after a few seconds, the descending C-B-A-G would kick in again. It was laugh-out-loud funny.

I compared this technique to the way my 4-year-old nieces play:

If you’ve ever watched an untrained toddler attempt to play a melody on the piano (instead of simply banging chords and tone clusters), that’s usually how they do it. More curious children try to vary the order of the notes from time to time.

Many of brief comments on every single track (done at the behest of my editor) were changed. I really like what I had originally, so I’m reproducing it below:

1.”I Made the Right Choice” by selecting a string pad patch to play the notes C-B-A-G.
2. “Lessons From the Wind”: Play the notes C-B-A-G over and over on an oboe patch, with a clarinet trill interjecting at random places.
3. “Walking Through Berkeley” I heard synthesized strings playing C-B-A-G.
4. “My Mistakes” are believing in playing C-B-A-G repeatedly and releasing it to the public.
5. “New York I’m Home” and ready to play C-B-A-G on an electric piano patch
6. “Where Are You Going” when there are filter-sweep patches and clarinet patches playing C-B-A-G?
7. “Lost in the Sky of Love” for the notes C-B-A-G.
8. “Save the Animals” by playing a synth patch that always sweeps upward to the note while string pads intone C-B-A-G
9. “Happy to Live” to play the notes C-B-A-G.
10. “What Came First Are We Alive” or have we died and gone to hell where the notes C-B-A-G are repeated in unpredictable rhythms?
11. “Tokyo” sounds surprisingly like Berkeley and New York, except with a cheesy koto patch
12. “Tribute to Lil B” by playing C-B-A-G for almost 5 minutes
13. “At the Zoo With Mom” the chimpanzees threw their C-B-A-G’s at some kid tormenting them
14. “Dreams Are Real” and so are the notes C-B-A-G
15. “Exhale With Love in Your Chest” the notes C-B-A-G over filter-sweep patches and doofy sitars
16. “Wooden Hotel” where the pitches C-B-A-G check in and never leave
17. “Welcome to America” which oddly is in a different key than the cities of Berkeley and New York

Tomorrow night I’m going to hear John Adams’ new opera/oratorio, The Gospel According to the Other Mary. I expect to be thoroughly astonished, delighted, and moved.

The Gospel According to The Other Mary

The new John Adams/Peter Sellars collaboration, The Gospel According to the Other Mary, had its world premiere last night in Los Angeles. I wrote a preview for the LA Weekly which you may read here.

I posted links to different reviews of the work at sequenza21. (Was I right about that cimbalom or what?) I’ll be viewing the Sunday performance and will report on it in a separate post at sequenza21.

If you saw it, let me know what you think!

Maurice Sendak’s Opera Librettos

Karen Beardsley as Max in the 1990 LA Opera production of Where the Wild Things Are

The great author and illustrator Maurice Sendak passed away this week. While most of his obituaries mentioned his design work for operas and ballets, not as much attention was focused on the librettos and designs he did for two wonderful operas by Oliver Knussen. I reviewed the American premiere of Higglety Pigglety Pop! and the West Coast premiere of Where The Wild Things Are. Both operas have been sadly neglected by opera companies; I believe that Higglety Pigglety Pop! is one of the great operas of our time. Sendak’s operatic adaptations are brilliant, remaining true to his books, yet artfully and efficiently reimagining the stories for the stage.

This review first appeared in the La Jolla Light on June 28, 1990; I was very new at journalism then, and I’ve fixed a couple sentences that made me cringe upon re-reading. The original sentiments and opinions, however, remain.

Opera brings Sendak’s characters to life

The Los Angeles Music Center Opera recently presented two one-act operas by the noted, young British composer/conductor Oliver Knussen, with libretti and designs by Maurice Sendak. While Where the Wilds Things Are (1983) had previously been performed by the Minnesota Opera in 1985, the Los Angeles Music Center’s production of Higglety Pigglety Pop! was the American premiere.

Judging by the near capacity house Sunday afternoon full of eager children and smiling parents, one would never have suspected that one was about to listen to (Shudder! Gulp!) modern music. Sendak was clearly the attraction for the audience; many of the young adults were no doubt just as keen to see Max rumpus with the Wild Things as their offspring were.

No one seemed disappointed. Sendak’s world magically appeared on stage–his costumes and sets were literal translations of his drawings, and the difficult task of adapting his “once upon a time” narrations into dialogue was splendidly realized. Director Frank Corsaro and the largely brilliant cast of singers helped bring Sendak’s beloved characters to life.

Knussen’s scores struck me as his most colorful and accessible to date. Higglety Pigglety Pop! invokes many different composers—Mussorgsky, Debussy, Berg, Britten, and Mozart—while retaining a strong sense of Knussen’s personality.

The music frequently underscored characters and their actions, sometimes via leitmotives. There was “horse-and-buggy” music replete with sleigh bells. When Jenny, the canine protagonist, fainted (or pretended to), the music appropriately swooned in a mad, downward rush. When a doorbell was rung on stage, a horrendous clanging set the mood for Jenny’s encounter with the tantrum-prone Baby.

The music heard at the onset of the nursery scene was a sweet invocation of Mozart; when the devilish Baby appeared, one or two other innocent-sounding tunes were superimposed to form perverse dissonances. The Lion’s music was appropriately “terrifying,” using low brass, tam-tam, and cymbal crashes, and two powerful male voices singing in parallel. Knussen’s orchestration was always imaginative.

Cynthia Buchan’s portrayal of Jennie, the Sealyham terrier, was all the more impressive in light of her sweet voice always clearly audible despite its emerging from a small hole in a dog suit. She conveyed her character’s dramatic inflections well, including a growling gruffness during her spoken lines. After a while, it truly seemed as if there was a dog on stage magically singing arias.

Mel Whitehead (the Pig) was a strong bass; Greg Fedderly (the Cat), a brilliant tenor. All of the singers in both operas, with the exception of Dale Wendell’s pinched and screechy coloratura, had excellent diction, making the use of supertitles superfluous (except for one clever moment of staging where the supertitles were silently “reading” a playbill.)

Karen Beardsley’s bravura portrayal of Max carried Where the Wild Things Are. She was on stage throughout the entire work, cavorting rambunctiously and spunkily intimidating Wild Things, yet always in beautiful control of her voice. Knussen’s score owes a large musical debt to Debussy and Ravel, and much of the musical material is generated from the famous alternating dominant sevenths from the Coronation scene in Boris Godunov (a borrowing made parodistically apparent during Max’s own coronation). Max’s infamous Wild Rumpus sounded like an inventively mad mixture of Mussorgsky and West Side Story.

The 10-foot-tall Wild Things stole the show with their rolling eyes, sniffing noses, and palpably beating hearts. A sonically isolated booth in the pit contained five of the Wild Things’ voices, which were then broadcast over loudspeakers. The amplification worked well, making their snorts, inarticulate mumbles, and other nonsensical monster sounds heard. At times it sounded as if the Wild Things were singing in Yiddish–or what a child might misremember as Yiddish.

Randall Behr conducted the small orchestra with accuracy, bringing out all of the music’s drama. All in all, I witnessed two remarkable. well-performed works which displayed the fantastic, inventive whole that opera is capable of achieving through its summation of music, libretto and staging.

From the Glyndebourne opera production of Where the Wild Things Are, which you can purchase on DVD here.