excerpted from caro's journal: topic: music

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2006_09_07:11: The Rudest Tea Guests

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I've been meaning to play the harpsichord more often. I played a lot ths winter, because for six months I had a horrible ogre for a roommate. Consequently, I spent a lot of time locked in my room. I got a huge amount of work done on Silhouette, and I simultaneoulsy relaxed and stimulated further connections in my brain by playing music.

Repetitious music grates on my nerves. The ubiquitousness of repetitious music in stores and other public places forced me to buy a portable CD player a couple of years ago, so that I could drown out the awful stuff with interesting complexity. Practice doesn't do the same terrible things to my head. I don't mind repeating passages to get them right, and I don't mind listening to other people practice. I'd like to understand why there is this difference.

Out of the blue, J has asked me if I'd like to play in an ensemble. That's because he's never heard me play. But, yeah, I sure would! He sent me the piece by Marin Marais today. Let the butchery begin!
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2001-02-07:19:32

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Turns out that my previous bad radio reception is a result of the position of the furniture upstairs! It's a sort of radio feng shui. The main factor is my homemade rat cage, which, though made of wood, has two 5-foot by 3-foot chickenwire doors on it. I noticed one night when the radio was on rather loud, that opening the door changed the station quite reliably.

So I got a spare length of chickenwire and bent it into a rectangular tube, and waved it in front of the radio until it made a difference.

Then I tried it with the tv. Now I get 6 channels instead of one and a half, and I have a very ugly box of chickenwire hanging from a chair in the middle of the room. Television is important!
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2001-02-25:18:18

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Radio reception has changed again, probably because Tom looked in the general direction of my receiver. Now I can only get Car Talk if I embrace the receiver lovingly with one arm. This makes it very difficult to eat lunch with Click and Clack and I'm quite put out.
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2001_09_19:21: American Flag

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Seems funny, but I had to listen to the sound track from the original Star Wars movie. Not to put me in the mood for war, but to help me deal with the reality of it. It's strong, triumphant music--again, not triumphant in the sense of victory in war, but in the sense of victory in life. My vinyl recording is old and scratchy; I laughed as I took it from its jacket--the sides are numbered so that you can stack the disks on the spindle. Remember when they thought it would be a good idea to drop records on top of each other?
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2001-03-15:19:27

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"Rediscovered" my boxed set of vinyl Smithsonian recordings of Bach's Six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord and Two Sonatas for Violin and Basso Continuo, James Weaver at the ancient harpsichord. Just hadn't felt like playing them for many months. They sound different to me now. Maybe it was just how worn and staticky they're getting now, in comparison to the Harpsichord Concertoes, which I value as much for its crystal clear quality as the outrageous music and arrangements. If one harpsichord is orgasmic, what are four? But I digress. I'm not really hearing the static as I listen now, but rather getting lost in counterpoint.
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2000-11-04:22:26

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The classical radio station does in fact come in better when the electronic antennae is unplugged and the ac cord is draped across a chair, the tv cable is wrapped around the antennae, and the speaker is on top of the t urntable (which of course creates turntable feedback, but not when the radio is on). Though electrical outlets are plentiful in my home, which, unlike most of my homes, was built some decades after the industrial revolution when it really did seem that e lectrical appliances were not just a fad anymore, still, rearranging furniture in order to listen to the radio in this canyon makes me feel like Lisa Douglas of Green Acres.
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2000-10-26:07:10

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Frank told me today that he likes classical music, and it wasn't Rachmaninoff! He actually knows who Wanda Landuska is. This is quite remarkable. Apart from the amazing Carol and Kim, I don't think I know any Objectivists who actually understand the meaning of the term 'early music'.

My own early music has suffered of late, the victim of a too-busy schedule. But a most mirculous thing has happened! Suddenly I can get a public radio station! I wish I knew what the mechanism is, so that I don't screw it up. I just moved from the small bedroom into the large one, and lots of wiring has been moved with it. Given the depth of this canyon, the difficulty of finding even a country station (country stations are everywhere), and the finicky particularity of the antenna wire with regard to the speakers, I am ready to believe it is the current position of the torche lamps upstairs that is making this boon possible.

24 hours a day, nonstop music. And they like early music. On original instruments. It is heaven. I feel like my whole life has changed: to be able to walk to the stereo in the morning and have real music all day without going back to flip the disk.

Now it is true that they played 'Rodeo' twice since this bit of providence two weeks ago, they've already played 'Eine Kleine Nacht Musik' once, which is a bad statistical sign. But I will take it. To hear new music every day. To hear those grinding, yeowling baroque strings, and harpsichord music that I don't own. La Jolla is now complete. It was only a month ago that I was terribly homesick for Bloomington, and the main thing my mind kept wandering back to was the incessant music, everywhere, radio stations catering to the Early Music Institute students and faculty and local fans thereof, the Institute itself offering free concerts around the clock, my own harpsichord lessons, stores selling sheet music without modern notation scribbled in--anything you could possibly dream up to ask for (well, I did have to write to France for the Duphly--but I got the Partitas over the counter). How could I have left it? I think it was partly the slight drop in temperature, the overcast days, and the longer nights that triggered the feeling that I should be going back to school any minute now, and the smell of rosin and confused tangle of practice sessions would soon assault my senses in the hallway of the "square" building. I will always love you, Indiana, for this even more than your pink and white spring streets and your big sky.

What a little night music can do for a place.
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2001_04_15:12: How We Choose

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Listening to J.S. Bach's Musicalische Opfer (Musical Offering), which consists of a number of variations on a complex theme. Perfect working music: steady rhythm, continuous sound, much too complicated to distract me with boringness or repetition and much too integrated to distract me with incongruences. When I turn my eyes from words for a moment to reflect, it's there, tying my thoughts together with the flux of color and sunshine on the patio.

Bach is woefully misunderstood and misrepresented by people who are slightly familiar with his works. I've heard all sorts of odd claims: Bach is formulaic (!), Bach is "too mathematical" (!!) Bach is too precise (!!!); or, as one person said, "There are too many deedle-deedle-deedles" (referring, I guess, to the use of counterpoint, split arpeggios, trills and mordants--kind of like the chapel-meister in Amadeus, who criticized Mozart's work for having "too many notes." I snicker.)

Bach may actually be all of these things, but to say that he is too much of these things is like attempting to criticize by saying, "Your philosophy is too true! It would be fine if it were less true!" or "That ice cream is too delicious! Make it less yummy!"

But I've also heard people say that Bach is expressionless. Interestingly, there are a variety of ways to represent human expression in music. One way is by playing instruments more loudly at some points, more softly at others. This is only one of many techniques that musicians use, even contemporary ones. To some extent, Bach didn't have this kind of volume range available, though that isn't completely accurate; many of his instruments did have volume control, the pipe organ being one of the most important. The harpsichord, a mechanically-plucked instrument, does not have soft-and-loud capability in virtue of the force that the musician uses. But there are other ways of representing emotion on the harpsichord, and even of changing the volume, or the perceived volume, a little: slight pauses before a note is struck makes it more important, hanging onto a note a little longer allows it to compete with the other notes and seem louder than a quickly-released one, striking two or three strings on the same note at once (as one can do by coupling the harpsichord keyboards on double manual instruments) increases volume and importance, arpeggiating chords instead of playing all the notes together draws special attention to each. Making a note "less significant" in some way is very like making it quieter in terms of volume. But one has to become accustomed to these other sorts of variations; they are not as immediately and grossly obvious as a large change in volume, or a drum roll, or a dog barking.

Because Bach is so often said to be "mathematical," with all the implied insults of non-emotionality that commonly come with that description, I'm surprised that he isn't a favorite among engineers, and all the measurement-omitting objectivists. All that math and measurement and abstraction, people! Intricate and complicated relationships and integrations amongs the parts, the form of the music following its function: to touch the human brain and soul deeply, one must access the most rational part, the thinking thing, and what more precise method for doing that than the precise, mathematical, rational, carefully-measured music of Bach! Indeed, it takes an analytically-inclined mind to even tolerate such a personal invasion, let alone appreciate it and see the beauty in it.

While I have independent reasons for preferring to hear baroque music played on baroque instruments in baroque-sized ensembles, comparatively speaking most musicians trained in the contemporary style don't seem to know what to do with ancient music. Whatever one may say about other composers, Bach didn't write haphazardly. He took his instruments into account, thought about their capabilities, and wrote the music to fit them and the various styles of playing them that were current (you'd never know that, looking at modern transcriptions of Bach's scores, originally so bare and spacious by comparison). There are ways of playing Bach sensibly on modern instruments, but you don't usually find those performances on $4 bargain tapes named "Bach's Greatest Hits!" and "Bach's Love Themes" played by the Chipotle Municipal Orchestra and Brass Marching Band. If the harpsichordist isn't named on the label, and if a description of the instrument isn't provided, you may as well buy the score and perform it yourself on your kid's toy piano.

Relatedly, I am frequently accused of liking Bach, and especially liking Bach on original instruments, "just because". The list of "just because" reasons always surprises me. All I can think is that, because my critic can't comprehend the music himself, or can't comprehend causality in the area of aesthetics, he has to come up with some broad abstraction to explain the inexplicable: interest in baroque music. It must not be genuine: it must be "just because" it is fashionable in early music circles to hold "authenticity" above all other values, such as tone and expression (it isn't, I know for a fact, having been in those circles for many years); it's "just because" I have mindlessly allowed myself to be swayed by these fashions. It must be "just because" I haven't heard other composers (not so! since the age of 13 I have listened to as many composers as have been made available via public radio, sometimes sleeping with random programming playing). It must be "just because" I have not heard such-and-such an artist. Etc, etc.

Why is it so difficult to believe that I love Bach's music for what it is, for what it says to me? Why is it not possible that the instruments upon which he composed happen to sound more beautiful to me than instruments from other periods? And why might it not be the case that hearing Bach's music on Bach's instruments adds, for me, a value that isn't available when it is played on modern instruments?

I suppose I have to chalk this up to a lack of imagination. Think they: "If I don't like it, no one else could, so any professed interest must be merely feigned, and if we could just get the girl to listen to Rachmaninoff, she'd soon change her tune!" Thank you. I've heard him.

Take for example, my troubled relationship with the clarinet. How deeply I hate the sound of this wretched whiney instrument! I sometimes start to feel antsy and disturbed while I'm working, and then I realize that the radio station is blasting clarinet music at me. You could use the sound of it in electronic rodent repellent devices. And yet, there are people who play the damned thing, or buy music played on it! Despite the fact that to me it is about as aesthetically interesting as the sound of fingernails on slate, I imagine that the sound of the clarinet must thrill them the way the sound of the baroque oboe thrills me. I don't see how, given my tastes, but there's no need to make up other explanations when taste will do. Imagination is important.
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2001_06_20:16: Testing

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In my head: Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin.