30 November 2014

Perfunctory Annual Disengagement Post

That's it for the month. Til next time.

Reports of My Demise (xii)

The outer layer of the masculinity crisis, men's loss of economic authority, was most evident in the recessionary winds of the early nineties, as the devastation of male unemployment grew ever fiercer. The role of family breadwinner was plainly being undermined by economic forces that spat many men back into a treacherous job market during corporate "consolidations" and downsizings. Even the many men who were never laid off were often gripped with the fear that they could be next – that their footholds as providers were frighteningly unsteady.

As the economy recovered, the male crisis did not, and it became apparent that whatever men's afflictions were, they could not be gauged solely through graphs from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Underlying their economic well-being was another layer of social and symbolic understanding between men, a tacit compact undergirding not only male employment but the whole connection between men and the public domain. That pact was forged through loyalty, through a conviction that a man's "word" meant something in the larger society, through a belief that faithfulness, dedication, and duty would be rewarded in kind, or at least appreciated in some meaningful way – some way that "made you a man." Realizing that loyalty, whether to a corporation, an army, or a football team, no longer allowed a man to lay claim to male virtue – that it was as likely, in fact, to make him a pitiable sap – could be devastating to any man, but especially to those postwar men raised on home-team spirit, John Wayne westerns, and tributes to the selfless service of the American GI.

Susan Faludi, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, p. 595

Slogging through Faludi's 600-plus page epic, one often suspects she has slipped in every precious writerly turn of phrase that editors have trimmed from her newspaper articles over the years. Nevertheless, in just over 14 pages, she pulls together a cogent and incisive concluding chapter that's worth more by itself than Hanna Rosin's entire book.

Rosin asks why men can't or won't participate in the New Economy, but she is too polite to seek substantive answers, and her fieldwork is far too shallow to offer them up on a platter. It is ultimately conjectural but by no means without some merit to conclude, as I have devoted much of the month to articulating, that digging deeper in fact threatens to challenge too many of her own basic assumptions about the world and about what people do and ought to want from it.

Faludi on the other hand has the distinct advantage of depth, if not breadth, of engagement, having followed her stories for years on end simply as part of her day job, and thus having developed long-term personal relationships with many of the men she chronicles. And what she found, overwhelmingly, were distant fathers and the gaping chasms they left unfilled in their sons' lives:

For centuries, of course, fathers have disappointed, neglected, abused, abandoned their sons. But there was something particularly unexpected, and so particularly disturbing, about the nature of paternal desertion that unfolded in the years after World War II, precisely because it coincided with a period of unprecedented abundance. In the generation before the war, millions of fathers failed to support their families, and hordes of them abandoned their households, became itinerant laborers, hoboes, winos. But that was the fault of the Great Depression, not of its men. By contrast, the post-World War II era was the moment of America's great bounty and ascendance, when the nation and thus its fathers were said to own the world. Never, or so their sons were told, did fathers have so much to pass on as at the peak of the American century. And conversely, never was there such a burden on the sons to learn how to run a world they would inherit. Yet the fathers, with all the force of fresh victory and moral virtue behind them, seemingly unfettered in their paternal power and authority, failed to pass the mantle, the knowledge, all that power and authority, on to their sons. (596-7)

For all of her insight, Faludi too suffers from a certain reluctance to go all the way on questions such as this, though the word "burden" above is a subtly dropped hint that she does, in fact, have the understanding and wherewithal to do so. I very much doubt she believes single mothers and gay couples to be inherently unfit to raise boys; why, then, should the mere presence of a distant father throw such a wet blanket on the whole enterprise when he is not the only parent present? Rosin's addition-by-subtraction, "just another mouth to feed" analysis certainly comes to mind, but she consistently frames this as a purely economic/financial decision, and one made disproportionately by working-class women; we have reached awfully dark times indeed if it is demonstrably better for children of all classes on grounds of social adjustment as well. That possibility notwithstanding, Faludi never quite so explicitly asks if perhaps the culture at large was responsible for creating in these boys inflated, ultimately regressive expectations of what a father might do for a son. In fairness, she can't really ask this since it violates the trust these men (i.e. the grownup sons) have shown in her in confessing their inner pain for a mass audience. I am asking it here, then, and at the risk of going all Men's Movement on everything, I have another question as well: how many of these distant fathers do you think may once have expressed what was, for them, the responsible intention not to have children only to be, let's say, fooled into impregnating their partner against their wishes? Everyone knows someone.

Another nugget, apropos of nothing in particular: I lost track of how many stories Faludi tells of husbands being laid off and wives more or less immediately moving out and "getting involved" with co-workers. You would think it was a stealth attack on these women's character and motives...that is until she inevitably induces the deserted husband to admit that yeah, he might have hit her this one time, and actually, yeah, he did hit her this one time. Suddenly the sticking around part makes less sense and the leaving part more. So, there certainly is some oblique storytelling here, but I suspect it's intentional, and it's definitely effective as long as the reader is paying close enough attention. It also, however, leaves one wondering if there aren't some simpler big-picture issues for these men to deal with before the intricacies of essentialism-versus-constructionism, inner psyches, and advanced capitalist exploitation can be fruitfully unpacked and offered up for their self-improving consumption.

The last item on that list, however, is one on which Faludi crafts some exceptionally insightful prose, and so in gratitude (is it showing gratitude to plop large sections of someone's book on the internet?), she gets the final word in this year's installment of Reports:

...just because men have wound up in a beauty-contest world doesn't mean women have put them there. The gaze that plagues them doesn't actually spring from a feminine eye. The ever-prying, ever-invasive beam reducing men to objects comes not from women's inspection but from the larger culture. Cast into the gladiatorial arena of ornament, men sense their own diminishment in women's strength. But the "feminine" power whose rise most genuinely threatens men is not the female shoulder hoisting girders at a construction site, not the female foot in the boardroom door of a corporation, not the female vote in the ballot box. The "femininity" that has hurt men the most is an artificial femininity manufactured and marketed by commercial interests. What demeans men is a force ever more powerful in the world, one that has long demeaned women. The gaze that hounds men is the very gaze that women have been trying to escape. (599)

And again:

At century's end, feminists can no longer say of consumer culture with such ringing confidence that "what it does to everyone, it does to women even more." The commercialized, ornamental "femininity" that the women's movement diagnosed now has men by the throat. Men and women both feel cheated of lives in which they might have contributed to a social world; men and women both feel pushed into roles that are about little more than displaying prettiness or prowess in the marketplace. Women were pushed first, but now their brothers have joined that same forced march." (602)

Don't push me, Hanna Rosin. Don't push me.

29 November 2014

Reports of My Demise (xi)

It's time to start thinking endgame here, and there are indeed a couple of loose ends to be tied up concerning the gender discussion I opened up earlier in the month. (Actually, there are thousands of them, but you know what I mean. Only hours left in the month and way too many unread books remaining on the stack to think that today will mark the end of this dialogue.) One of them concerns Hanna Rosin's use of the phrase "creative class," which I have to assume is a direct nod to Richard Florida's 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class. Blogging about this book in 2014 is almost a retro-hipster maneuver; when I started this site way back in the mid aughts and went looking for other bloggers to read, it seemed to be nearly everywhere I looked. Today I finally jumped in and have managed to read the first hundred-plus pages, roughly a third of the book. It certainly bears the dual stamp of pop-economist authorship which so endears such works to the blogosphere: admirable empirical authority with which to support our otherwise poorly-supported diatribes blended with an occasional obliviousness to stuff everyone else knows, thus opening myriad avenues for criticism and discussion.

I guess that should be reason enough to plop yourself down and read a book, but frankly the fact that I, the bibliophobe, am taking the time at all tells you how deeply troubled I've been by The End of Men, since I'm really only interested in fact-checking Rosin's appeals to the concept, given as she is to dropping breezy, shallow references where more depth might be helpful. As it turns out there's not much to get worked up over this time around: Florida's book, like Rosin's, is not really about artists at all. Really, then, it's all those mid-aughts blogmongers who deserve a slap on the wrist for getting just a bit over-excited that artists and musicians suddenly were being posited as members of an ascendant class uniquely well-positioned to thrive in a Brave New World of impermanence and volatility. If you'd asked, we could just have told you that those forces are wreaking havoc with our lives and careers as well.

Instead, our presence is mostly just a convenient indicator to mercenary job-hoppers that a given place is good enough for them. We're lumped in with Florida's "super-creative core" because, well, how could we not be? Creativity is central to what we do, whereas the smaller, secondary category of "creative professional," while granted honorary membership in the larger Creative Class, is merely required "to think on their own" and "engage in creative problem solving" (69) without necessarily being expected to innovate, design, or build. So how many "super-creative" musicians are pulling down near the average annual salary Florida cites for his Super-Creative Core ($42,719 in 1999 dollars)? Probably not too many. One enviable point about us, though: we care about what we do and we know why it matters.

Indeed, the most interesting chapter to me so far is called "The Machine Shop and The Hair Salon," wherein Florida lays out not only anecdotal but also extensive empirical evidence that self-fulfillment matters more than ever to today's labor force, exceeding even financial compensation in many cases. He speaks of "the growing number of young people who are 'good with their hands' but choose to wrap their hands around a tattooing needle, DJ turntable or landscaping tools rather than the controls of a turret lathe" despite the latter skill's greater marketability and stability. His is at least a far more satisfying, less d-baggy list of metiers than Rosin's ("publicity assistant, wine critic, trail mix creator, sustainability consultant, screenwriter"). The loss of manufacturing jobs has been a real trend, but so, evidently, has a growing distaste for them among young people who might in earlier generations have mindlessly gravitated in that direction. "I don't think guidance counselors can change this," says Florida, and really, how could I or any of my music school compadres on either side of the stand observe crops and crops of glassy-eyed, ill-prepared frosh and doubt that he's right?

Now, Hanna Rosin on the "seesaw marriage:"

Couples are not chasing justice and fairness as measured by some external yardstick of gender equality. What they are after is individual self-fulfillment, and each partner can have a shot at achieving it at different points in the marriage. The arrangement got established in an era where the creative class moves more fluidly through jobs and no one expects to stay in the same job forever. It thrives in a culture that privileges self-expression over duty. It's progressive in it's instinctive gender blindness and rejection of obligatory work, and utterly conservative in its comfort with traditional marriage.

[my boldface emphasis throughout]

There is a hidden premise here; it is well-hidden indeed, but I for one insist on "going there." Why exactly is it, Ms. Rosin, that both partners can't chase individual self-fulfillment concurrently rather than being limited to doing so in shifts? What exactly is this shadow force tying down our otherwise adept, Creative, educated married couples, alternately derailing one's quest for happiness, then the other's? Clearly it is exists; you just wrote a whole paragraph about it. But does it have a name? It couldn't be...children, could it Ms. Rosin? You wouldn't consider...children such an obvious, non-negotiable component of your own notions of self-fulfillment that their wet-blanket effect on virtually every other such avenue could avoid being directly articulated for chapters on end, would you? Ah, but that's precisely what has happened here. "Domestic work" is such a weasel-word euphemism in so many books on gender: no pair of grown adults creates so many dirty t-shirts and cereal bowls by themselves that cleaning them up becomes a second full-time job. It's the kids, stupid! Lose the a priori assumption that domestic partnership = childrearing and suddenly the world opens up.

Why is this so hard to do? For once, Rosin cannot claim to be a just a reporter and not a theorist; in fact she does theorize in spates, for example that the seesaw marriage is "progressive in it's instinctive gender blindness and rejection of obligatory work, and utterly conservative in its comfort with traditional marriage." Bullshit: what she describes here is an overwhelmingly conservative orientation; the taken-for-granted assumption that procreation is an essential feature of heterosexual domestic partnership colors every square inch of it. Seriously, having a kid doesn't create any "obligatory work?!" And the "gender blindness" part? It merely dictates that instead of the woman being derailed entirely and the husband hardly at all, both partners instead take turns getting derailed. "Do you do, or don't you don't" as professor Zappa said, but the root of "progressive" is "progress" and I respectfully disagree that there's more than a smidge of that represented here, at least not with the world's population, wealth distribution, and natural resources standing where they each do at this moment.

(Am I saying humans should stop reproducing altogether and just go extinct the old-fashioned way? It wouldn't break my heart, nor that of any polar bear or grey wolf you might stop to ask.)

28 November 2014

(Much Needed) Update to Conditioning Best Practices

A few Blog Months ago, I attempted a post on "conditioning best practices for tuba players." I just revisited it and confirmed my nagging suspicion that I've since disproved most of what I then thought to be true. After years of frustration I have only in the last several months made some real progress, progress which I suspect might age quite a bit more gracefully than it did the last time I thought I could say so. Who really knows. Again, I will offer the disclaimer that this reflects only one person's experience, and even then may cease to be relevant in short order.

The first, unfortunate, point is that I still have yet to achieve perfect interchangeability in musical results between a strictly vegan diet and one which involves occasional strategic beef loading. Two days in advance of an important playing obligation seems nearly always to be an effective time to do this. Whether this restores depleted iron and protein supplies in the body or simply provides an extra caloric boost I have no idea at this point. However, it is very real and I am now relying on it, with notable success in recent months.

Man, did I trash napping back when I wrote the other post. For whatever reason, napping has now become my choppers' best friend rather than their worst enemy, indicating that something else was fishy back in the day which for whatever reason a substantial midday nap badly exacerbated. Everyone should read Dr. William Dement's The Promise of Sleep. It has priceless information that everyone can use, like the fact that the "two-thirty feeling" is actually a natural drop in the body's built-in alerting system. (Closed-circuit to white people: this means that the siesta is actually a scientifically justifiable masterstroke of productivity, not an emblem of laziness. I am proving it.) Having claimed the 6am-2pm shift at work almost a year ago, I am finding that for me as someone who has never been able to sleep very long at a time, it is highly effective for me to basically only ever try to sleep when alerting is low, i.e. late night into early morning and early to mid-afternoon. When I have work during the day and gigs at night I sometimes end up sleeping almost an equal amount during both stretches for days at a time. Sounds awful to you, maybe, but for me it's a godsend as I never have to go straight from work to a gig or vice versa without refreshing myself.

By the end of a long day without any breaks, you simply have no energy, and what I'm coming to suspect is that looking at all of this in terms of general energy level is a much more fruitful approach than focusing on specific muscles. This is informing my eating as well. If you have seen me eat, you most likely share my disbelief that my prior struggles with conditioning could possibly have been due to insufficient caloric intake; and yet, I am paying more attention to this and it is working. I am also going out of my way to diversify my diet rather than eating so much of the same things, and while I can't say for sure that this has had any impact, it sure can't hurt. Right now I am halfway through Enette Larson-Meyer's Vegetarian Sports Nutrition and am most struck by the sheer number of nutrients that factor directly into performance athletics. In the past I probably was getting decent amounts/proportions of macronutrients but not nearly the diversity of micronutrients she outlines. I am making the effort now; it helps to be close to the nation's fruit basket, and lots of Trader Joe's locations.

You're laughing at the phrase "performance athletics" on a tuba blog? I was right there with you for a long time and the consequences nearly ruined me physically and emotionally. This leads me to probably my most disturbing recent discovery, soon to be put to the final empirical test over winter break but right now with very strong anecdotal evidence to support it, and this is that ceasing all unnecessary strenuous athletic activity (in my case, my coveted handful of trips to the basketball court each week) has made a dramatic positive difference in my tuba playing. How is this even possible? Strong aerobic conditioning is thought by many to have great benefits to wind players. For whatever it's worth, I for one have never quite been able to prove this to myself anyway; more substantively, though, I strongly suspect that this amount of strenuous exertion has simply been depleting my energy stores and that I have not been getting the right amount/kind of either food or sleep in the recovery period. There were hints of this as soon as I started paying attention, but it was too uncomfortable a conclusion; there's no way tuba playing could burn all the extra calories I've been consuming by itself, and the absence of strenuous physical activity is literally a death wish. Is this where the fat tuba player thing comes from? I hope not, but I certainly am paying close attention to all of this. Stay tuned for the results of future experiments.

27 November 2014

Son of Iron, Man! – Givin' Thanks for Beans 'n' Greens

This year's foodblogging: kale and pasta salad with pinto beans and sauteed tempeh.

INGREDIENTS (precise measurements customarily omitted per my previously discussed impatience with them)

•Several leaves each of green, red, and lacinato kale, finely chopped
•1 package Trader Joe's 3 Grain Tempeh, cubed
•1/3 to 1/2 bag Trader Joe's Brown Rice Fusilli*, cooked
•1 can Trader Joe's Organic Pinto Beans with Sea Salt, drained and rinsed
•Small handful of finely chopped red onion
•Small handful of finely chopped garlic
•Olive Oil (for coating the salad)
•Coconut Oil (for sauteing the tempeh)
•Bragg's Liquid Aminos
•Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute
•Dash of ground cayenne pepper


Combine the three varieties of chopped kale in a large mixing bowl. Coat with olive oil and Liquid Aminos to taste. Mix in the chopped red onion and pinto beans, then the cooked pasta with an additional splash of olive oil to grease the skids.

In a large skillet, dissolve the cayenne pepper and chopped garlic in coconut oil over medium heat. Add the cubed tempeh and saute until lightly browned on the bottom. Before turning with a spatula, splash on Liquid Aminos to taste and a generous heap of 21 Seasoning Salute. Flip/mix thoroughly and allow to brown again.

Finally, combine contents of skillet with those of large mixing bowl, toss, and enjoy.


Now some tips in case anyone actually tries to make this. Perhaps it's my own impatience or simply that I'm often, unlike today, in quite a hurry in the kitchen, but I find getting the right amount of salt (that's the Liquid Aminos here) quite elusive, especially when coating the kale. You can burn the tempeh and overcook the pasta and the salting can still make or break the dish. So experiment and be careful not to overdo it on the first pass.

Second, resist the temptation to dissolve the 21 Seasoning Salute in the hot oil before adding the tempeh. It will just burn. Once I realized this, a quantum leap in Ironman!tology was achieved.

Finally, this dish is a direct experimental descendant of last year's recipe, and that is to say that early versions involved combining everything step-by-step in the skillet and cooking it all together. That still works okay, and it's still a great way to deal with a half-bag of kale that got pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten for two weeks. However, as I was doing this kind of thing a lot, I eventually decided I needed to figure out a way to eat more raw kale and onions rather than simply steaming/frying the piss out of them all the time and hence likely losing a lot of the nutrients. Here, then, is one very nice solution IMHO.

Incidentally, while I was always apprehensive about sharing last year's dish for fear people might not really like it, I have since stumbled on the perfect use for it which I suspect could more reliably be served to guests: as filling for Fajitas Gringos with the tortillas of your choice. That's fuh-JY-tahs, the way your college roommate's white-ass parents would say it when you would all go to Chipotle after someone's degree recital.

That's all for this year, foodie friends. Keep fighting the good fight against vegan anemia, and maybe keep those gas pills close at hand as well. Til the next time hunger strikes...

*Not that I really care, but I am suspicious that TJs has actually mislabeled rotini as fusilli here. At the top of the latter's Wikipedia page, there is a notice that it has been proposed to merge the two entries; however, the picture to the immediate right is of something not quite like what I put in my salad today, which may explain why the proposal has evidently not yet achieved approval from the hive mind.

26 November 2014

Fickle Ears On Location – 11/26/14

#HANDSUP! – Outside the United States Courthouse, Los Angeles

Today, being for the first time in years time-rich and excuse-poor at just the time of a major national injustice, I dragged myself to downtown LA in order to stand up and be counted. Officially the headline cause was to demand Federal civil rights charges be brought against Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown; but of course protests have a way of getting rather precipitously "off-message," and why the hell not, seeing as "It's all connected, man..." I learned about some local incidents that I suppose I could have researched on the internet but would never have thought to look for. And no shit, but the moment of silence really was something special. I resisted snapping this photo until it had officially elapsed and been broken.

And then, textbook emotionally distant man and distracted artist that I am, and as is my custom at social gatherings of all sizes and kinds, I just kind of left without talking to anyone. According to one speaker, Los Angeles saw more arrests of protesters yesterday than any of the 170 U.S. cities where demonstrations erupted. There also were extensive reports last night of "kettling" by the police. Call me Bourgeois and overcautious but I wanted no part of any of that, especially depending as I only ever seem able to on employment in the security industry, which usually carries with it certifications and/or clearances that can be revoked in a heartbeat with little recourse. So as the march continues, I am safely back home in the East Valley typing this rather than clamoring for the release of last night's catches from the city jail.

At the risk of alarming those of you whom I have not caught up with for a while, I should share some things that I've experienced at my job in the last year or so as they have some bearing here. Since I started work at this school in August of 2013, I have experienced one active shooter incident, one horrendous traffic collision involving three of our students, one schizophrenic homeless man lunging at me while clutching a hunting knife, two trespassers who refused to identify themselves or to leave campus, numerous aggressive, crazy, or just plain uncooperative loiterers, and all manner of distracted, intoxicated, and/or generally incompetent Valley drivers careening every which way through a crosswalk that every student and staff member crosses several times per day. I have called the police dozens of times in the last year; my only complaint to this point is that they usually take forever to materialize when the situation is less than critical. Once they're on the scene, they typically handle themselves impeccably. And so, to the neanderthals out there in cyberspace who would posit attendance at an anti-police brutality rally as some kind of hypocrisy in someone who has ever once relied on the police to bail them out of a sticky situation: yes, I sure am thankful for the police when things go sideways in the neighborhood, but it is hardly hypocritical to ask just how things got so sideways in the first place! HOW did a convicted felon get his hands on a machine gun? WHY is there a shadow society of homeless people, many of them with mental health problems, living in a ditch a block away from a private school that costs a small fortune to attend? These are valid questions, they demand answers, and they effect everyone. And when less than everyone seems to be able to understand this, it is time to drop the slower ones a hint by taking to the streets

On a lighter note, for those of you academic music people, my teenage proposal to stage a protest at an AMS/SMT conference still stands in middle age.

25 November 2014


Today I listened, at his behest, to a very talented younger friend run down an upcoming classical trumpet audition. I have all but cut bait with the mainstream classical brass world at this point and found myself frequently prefacing/qualifying comments with, "What I'm about to say explains exactly why I don't do this anymore, but..." I am speaking specifically of questions of "expression," that ever-loaded, euphemistic catchall for everything that's not on the printed page. Everyone who has crawled under this particular rock for any period of time has spent countless hours in private lessons being told that a certain line needs more direction, that the speed, width, or amount of vibrato is not quite right, that all the notes and rhythms are there and all that is needed now is to "make music," as if that phrase means the same thing to everyone everywhere for all time. For my friend today, for me always, and I suspect for many, many other classical brass students, the challenge is simply caring, about what we are playing, about the people listening, and, highly problematically I would argue, about what kind of carrot is dangling at the end of the stick du jour. When the music is "our" music, and when the carrot is something real and personal and not simply career-driven grasping, it doesn't matter whether we're playing for thousands of people, one person, a microphone, or an empty room; but when the music is anything less than the very core of our identity, "expression" threatens to materialize only as a contrivance, if sometimes a convincing one, or perhaps not at all. This is a non-problem; it vanishes in "our" music as quickly as it appears elsewhere. But of course, even for the most uncompromising among us, the line between "our" music and the rest is not always so clear. For the moment Bach is my one lifeline to classical quasi-legitimacy, but I wouldn't refuse to play Hindemith, Kraft, or Galliard again, even though none of them are quite core identity material. I would be well-prepared technically simply because I would enjoy playing them, but in absence of an engaged audience I probably would need some prodding to "make music." And if this were all a teacher could think to offer me, I wouldn't be getting much out of my tuba lessons. Stylization is personal business, and it can scarcely be verbalized anyway.

Another can of worms, perhaps for another post: prescribed repertoire is essentially a means of controlling for personality. If competitors were allowed to choose their own rep, committees would have to judge on the aesthetics of the collective presentation instead of on (a) brute technique, and (b) the ability to play as if one cared deeply about (usually) awful music. We hear so much handwringing over (a), but I would insist that (b), being as it is highly destructive of sincerity, is actually the far greater evil.

23 November 2014

Reports of My Demise (x)

I gave away my copy of Gladwell's Outliers after I finished it, so I'm writing from memory here, but the chapter about why poor kids given the same educational opportunities as rich kids still fail to find the same real-world success has stuck with me. MG cites the impact of "concerted cultivation" to explain this: the rich kids are conditioned by their parents to be pushy, demanding, and outspoken while the poor kids are conditioned not to rock the achievement boat vis-a-vis their family and friends.

My mother, who has done more for me than I could ever repay, raised me in a rather curious way. I certainly was expected to excel at whatever task was put in front of me, but mom also never missed any opportunity to express her contempt for such "pushy parents" whose little terrors wielded their concertedly cultivated self-interest as a bludgeon against anything and anyone who stood in their way. I recall the terms "manipulative" and "hell-on-wheels" entering my atmosphere, if not my vocabulary, at quite the early age indeed. Swear words were never off limits, but "Bourgeois" and "Reagan" were definitely the two dirtiest such words in our household. And now that I stand post five days a week at Goutwood School for the Fabulous, I'm only more appreciative of the accuracy with which Mom diagnosed the situation and less inclined than ever to sympathize with the objects of her ire. Indeed, one of the first things I noticed there was a very different conception of physical/personal space: if you are a blue collar worker, students will virtually walk right into you, expecting, just as they have been raised to believe, that you will simply accommodate them at all times. It goes deeper than that, though. Many of the older students display "adult" mannerisms, but only superficially. I am qualified to diagnose this having worked for years with two homeschooled students who, for better or worse, had to "grow up quickly" due to an unstable and itinerant family situation. These girls had real, substantive, hard-won adult skills that were striking upon first encountering them; Goutwood kids, conversely, seem to come armed mostly with studied affect and purple hair.

In pop-culture compatible terms, we might say that Mom raised me to aim high for myself without stepping on other people to get there. It occurred to me for the first time upon reading Gladwell that, while I of course continue to believe quite strongly in this mode of operation, it may well be a death sentence for someone in my particular metier. I come from privilege but was "raised" like a poor kid, and very much on purpose. It's something I've always been thankful for, or at least wanted to be. But truthfully, it undoubtedly has held me back career-wise, and it has taken me a long time to be able to understand and admit this. Doing anything about it is going to be harder yet: it once got back to me that a guy who booked a certain music series in Minneapolis had referred to me as being "like a stalker." That was my first taste of what a damned-if-you-do/don't situation this all can be. Can any of you reading this who know me and my reluctance to self-promote believe that I actually elicited this kind of response from someone just by going about things the way I normally do? Perhaps, then, there's no way out but to have thick skin, something which I also don't always bring with me when I leave the house. Have you noticed, readers?

My final takeaway from the Gladwellian worldview is more global and ever more frequently on my mind as lately I've been moving amongst the real poor for the first time since mid-childhood. It has been found, for example, that rich and poor adolescents are all having sex, but that the former take great precautions and the latter very few; in other words, that having been "cultivated" to have dreams and goals leads people to safeguard themselves against being derailed while being constantly torn down leads them to say "fuck it all" and self-destruct as a ritual protest gesture. More broadly, it seems to me that certain messages about the ill-effects of smoking, of meat consumption, of cars, of Wal-Mart, and so on are actually making it out to the masses in impressively comprehensive fashion. People seem to have at least "heard about all that stuff" and many of them will, between defensive wisecracks, blurt out an example from their own lives that bears it all out. And yet...lacking a sufficient "booksmarts" education, they fail to see how their actions effect people other than them, and at that point they are, as we hear so often, "only hurting themselves." No one has ever managed to convince them that this is not okay either.

From Recent Conversations With Co-Workers

The pretty decent guy who drives a Corvette, at being told that petroleum is a non-renewable resource:

"Wow...I thought we could just keep making gas forever."

The dudebro ex-Marine, at being called out for his recalcitrance at taking orders from female superiors:

"Nah man, I'm cool with all that stuff about women being equal. I just don't want it around me!"

The smart and ambitious young lady with aspirations of cophood, at my attempts to put recent events in Ferguson, MO into historical context:

"Wait...when was slavery?"

And the revolution is supposed to come from...below?!! God help us all...


I have written here before, at least in dribs and drabs, about all the things I don't have in common with people who come from a rock background, but one thing we do have in common is a growing discontent with the sound palette of the traditional classical orchestra. I myself am a player who sticks to traditional tone production quite a lot of the time, and yet there is more to this question than just that, including but not limited to rooms, recording techniques, and instrumentation. I also seldom miss an opportunity to disavow audiophilia, but admittedly this is largely an audiophile's dilemma: on the rare occasion I can summon the willpower to launch an investigation into the latest flavor-of-the-month orchestral composer, I often come away with even stronger (usually negative) impressions of the "sound" than of the piece(s).

The name Djuro Zivkovic has been circulating, and perhaps it brings hope. None of the pieces I've listened to thus far have disappointed, and I've just realized a primary reason for this: they make me forget that I've ever lamented the limitations of traditional instruments, tone production, or recording techniques vis-a-vis contemporary music. Certainly there is still much to be done in waking the orchestral world from its timbral slumber. Even so, it's good to be reminded that the usefulness of any tool depends almost entirely on the skill with which it is wielded.

Music Education By The Numbers

The Western orchestral tradition represents a pinnacle of human achievement, but the student-to-teacher ratio stinks. Where else but band class is a 30-, 50-, or 80-to-1 student-teacher ratio considered normal and acceptable? And why do we somehow expect problems which rather predictably arise from this in core subject classes not to arise in music classes?

A View From The Place Where Blog Month 7 Went To Die

This post is a protest against Operational Need; as in, "applicant must be able to work a flexible schedule depending on operational need, including evenings, weekends, and holidays." Those of you reading this who know me personally know that holidays in particular and weekends to some degree as well don't mean all that much in my world. Evenings don't have to either, except of course when I've already spent all day, week, morning, and afternoon in the unique state of imposed intellectual deprivation mandated by the private security industry and, to varying degrees, its clients.

Though I've had some long days and weeks of teaching and touring, and though I'm no stranger to the Day Job scene, I'm always a bit embarrassed to admit that until 15 months ago I had worked 40 or more Day Job hours in a week only a handful of times. What I now know is that while 40 hours in five days can in fact be made to coexist with my musical life, 46 hours in five days definitely cannot, and 54 hours in six days sure as hell cannot. And the kicker is that the line I quoted above didn't actually appear when I applied for this particular job. It was a pretty decent scheduling situation for a while. Then I tempted fate, wrote a bunch of stuff about privilege and non-privilege, and vowed to keep doing so for an entire month. Me and my big ideas. What about my operational needs you guys?

Security is the most un-zenlike profession on the entire planet, one where you are not allowed to trust anyone unknown to you for any reason, and even those known to you only incrementally and symbolically over time. Security itself is an abstraction, not something you can simply install in your building or hold in your hands. The industry is, contrary to everything you might be lead to believe by the severe overrepresentation of men in its front lines, a soft-skills, people-skills, customer-is-always-right driven one. It is ornamental masculinity at its most purely symbolic and, in most cases right up through the Secret Service, dysfunctional as well. The facilities department "runs" the school; the security department merely holds red-faced conferences on how to look busy when you're really not.

And so this post would be remiss if it did not address what the phrase "operational need" really means. This is what it really means, and this injustice has no place in our country or our world. Fortunately for me there is no child relying on me for support, just a lonely weblog project which is already fully accustomed to not getting much action. I am not tied down by breadwinning duties or institutionalized prejudice against my kind, but merely by adolescent hubris and recreational verbosity. It could be worse. Even so, I take exception to being asked to work on 24 hours notice when officially, if not always practically, getting a day off requires two weeks advance notice; and I chastise the very notion of contracting out services, understanding as I now do that this creates a buffer zone of responsibility between a client that never has its shit together vis-a-vis The Schedule and the front line employees who are held hostage by said incompetence but have no direct recourse against an entity that does not legally employ them.

Once upon a time, a certain newly minted MFA spewed the following venom all over the internet:

In many ways, the day jobs I have held have engaged, challenged and utilized my entire physical and intellectual capacities to a much greater extent than many of the paying tuba gigs I have played. Those prone to hawking music as the ultimate multi-disciplinary task for the developing brain will of course accuse me of exaggerating, but I'm not so sure I am. In fairness, it is true that I have invested quite a bit more time and effort in improving my tuba playing than I have in becoming a better security guard, and that this has made certain kinds of tuba gigs much easier than they would otherwise be. That being what it may, in facing the transition from academic to civilian life for the second time, I find myself far less fearful of the indignities associated with low-wage jobs than of those which inhere in the musical cultures I inhabit.

I stand by those words. Indeed, the problem with the current situation is that once again, after a long and frustrating several months of job hunting and a dozen interviews with HR neanderthals who saw in me only an overqualified, distracted artist type destined to play by my own rules and bail in short order to go on tour, I have predictably outlasted scads of less qualified, less educated, less competent people who have managed to get themselves fired in every conceivable way, from urinating in public to smoking on campus to having their dad pick a fight with a homeless guy on their behalf. And now, somehow, some way, the one that's leftover after all of this, that long-haired hippie with a graduate degree and gaping chasms in his employment history, is too important to the operation to be scheduled for a mere 40 hour week. No, instead we must extend two of his shifts from 8 to 11.5 hours, netting him several hours of time-and-a-half and a few precious hours of double-time by the end of the week. If anyone else doubts that there is dignity in this in some circles, simply witness my co-workers bickering over who is chosen for overtime scheduling and who isn't. And then there's long-haired, distracted, ungrateful, overqualified me trying to give mine away and having a hell of a time. Color me privileged on payday and exhausted the rest of the time.

20 November 2014

Snail Mail

Today I had the pleasure of making a special trip to the Post Office in order to mail off some materials in support of a recent application. Say what you want about the zombification of Kids These Days or the discomfort of reading from a backlit screen, but I do find it surprising that so many places still require physical materials mailed to them. Perhaps in the composition world this is necessary to determine whether the applicant has any realistic grasp on performer-friendly score preparation; and yet, too often this merely becomes a referendum on whether the local print shop, be it of the mom-and-pop or the faceless corporate variety, can competently execute some of their most basic services. My road to grad school was paved with the fuckups of both types of places, a small one where the PC went all 1994 on my Sibelius-generated PDFs and rendered all of the noteheads in plain text, and a big one where both the self-service machines and the one behind the counter required several takes just to print on 11x17 paper without smearing. In truth, adjudicating dozens of scores on a screen doesn't sound like something I would want to be involved in. Today, however, I mailed off a wad of CD-Rs and a DVD of the stuff I recently posted to YouTube, which is a task I thought was blissfully behind us. Should it not be?

Then there's the much-maligned Post Office itself. May the omniscient being du jour have mercy on its soul. The Post Office evidently does not believe that good things come in small packages. It believes, rather, that the degree of Postal Service bling emblazoned on the package simply must vary in direct proportion to the importance of the contents, and hence that if you were well-prepared and brazen enough to fit three discs, three transcripts, and a cover letter snugly but comfortably into a small, plain, padded manila envelope, you must thereby suffer the indignity of all but completing the transaction at the self-service machine only to be told at the end that because the appointed label size will not fit on your envelope, you must wait in line with everyone else in order to receive a prepaid, blinged-out, flat-rate envelope, return to the back of the store in order to copy the address over, then wait in line a second time to pay. I have twice in my life had such packages disappear into thin air in the custody of the Post Office, and if this reduces the chances of that, I am on board. At that point, though, we are back where we started in wondering if there isn't just a better way to go about this 95% (or is it 99%?) of the time.

19 November 2014

Stand-in for a Placeholder

In a moment of hubris which has become a yearly tradition, a certain white male blogger with pretensions to blog every day for a month recently spat out this gem of a sentiment:

...for a field of endeavor so often and so loudly criticized for representing, literally or figuratively, the interests of male aristocrats and colonists, it is today difficult to locate which upper class privileges, exactly, are being enjoyed by any but the most conventionally successful artists

That none of the many Facebook comments I've managed to elicit so far this month have yet seized on the discussion(s) which an investigation of this claim might open up has been a disappointment, but only a mild one. That's because if pressed I might just unleash a tidal wave of angry white male angst about how my once-a-day project was, inevitably, interrupted by a distinctively underprivileged day, a day which stretched straight from 6am to midnight, a day which involved 7.5 hours of my life being pissed away standing around in front of a gate, a day which incorporated a round trip between LA and San Bernardino, and a day during which I literally had not one spare moment to get up even a generic placeholder post, as I have occasionally done in past years under similar circumstances. Admittedly, it also was a day where, in the final judgment, my work likely will have been more furthered than hindered, perhaps significantly so depending on myriad remaining unknowns. And so when I'm told that every day as a straight white male is a day of privilege, I'm inclined to take the sentiment at face value; when I am told the same thing about being an artist, though, I simply have to chuckle under my breath.

And so, as I write this again having awoken at 5am and again having caught only a fractional quantity of my customary afternoon naptime, I suspect I am by now carrying what the sleep doctor calls "crushing" sleep debt, aka living in "the twilight zone." Under such circumstances I fear posting as much as not posting; but here it is anyway for what it's worth, which is probably not much. Yes, I have a roof over my head; no, I am not particularly privileged at the moment; yes, I could have majored in biochemistry and now be depriving myself of sleep for a more noble, or at least lucrative, cause; and no, I don't have anything more elaborate or well-thought-out to say about all of this, at least not at the moment. For that, I regret to report you'll likely have to catch me on weekends and holidays while contenting yourself with thinner gruel during the week. G'night then.

17 November 2014

On Creating Challenges

The Question: if you don't care about the audience, why present your work publicly at all?

The Answer: motivation; that is, to consolidate if not to please. The possibility that someone else will see/hear my work provides excellent incentive to be myself; their particular reaction to me being myself figures most insignificantly in my desire to do so.

16 November 2014

Basketball, Bodies, and The Meritocracy

If you play enough pick up basketball in enough different regions of this country, you will see and hear quite a few remarkable things, and perhaps contribute a few yourself. But you will also see a lot of the same thing: people whose bodies simply won't permit them high-level athleticism or purely physical advantages over opponents who nonetheless have developed some very strong fundamental skills. Individualized fundamental skills, if the oxymoronic overtones of that turn of phrase can be massaged just a bit. (I want to argue that they can, and must.) Most striking to me these days as someone who received a great body for basketball but whose limited natural athleticism is only becoming more limited with advancing age is to watch and play against people who were dealt the opposite hand. On Friday a much shorter co-worker joked to me about investigating all manner of PEDs and black-magic stuff so he could get taller and be able to dunk. When I told him I'd been dunked on a few times by people his height he was incredulous; I was telling the truth, though.

There are even quite a few people out there who have neither the size nor the athleticism but who nonetheless, whether through sheer force of will or some other intangible, undeniably "got game," at least as far as the average pick-up game goes. And this is to say that they have, probably unwittingly, scrapped the "fundamentals" and instead "just played" until it felt right. In music, meanwhile, I fear that even though "success" truly is a much more subjective notion than it is in basketball, too often it is treated in the opposite fashion. We tend to look around at everyone who has two eyes, two ears, two arms, and two legs and think to ourselves that if they want to work hard enough at it, they too can master the very specific gauntlet of fundamentals that a given musical tradition demands of any and all adherents. It is far easier to see someone's arms and legs flailing about on the basketball court than it is to see through the cup of a trumpet mouthpiece to those two tiny strips of flesh resting against it, or further yet to the precise position of the jaw, teeth, tongue, and throat. As any trumpet student knows, though, there's a whole lot going on up inside that airway, and there are a whole lot of people (I was one of them) who for whatever reason just don't have physical rapport with the instrument as it is traditionally conceived, even in spite of substantial general musical aptitude. We make unrealistic expectations in this way, and we do it at yet greater expense here than in athletics, since "winning" at art may or may not have anything to do with traditional technique and everything to do with becoming yourself. With that last turn of phrase, we are apt to think of what's on the inside; but what's on the outside has a lot to do with it too, more probably than we've given adequate thought to in most musico-pedagocial traditions.

15 November 2014

Scrabble, Ethics, and The Meritocracy

Another confession: over the last several years I have allowed myself to get sucked into the strange and beautiful world of more-than-casual Scrabble playing, and I like it a little more than is probably good for me. Yes, I have become "that guy" who thinks nothing of playing words like UVEA, COOEE, and AENEOUS whether he's at a Scrabble club (yes, it has gone that far) or with a bunch of drunk friends, and who, when inevitably accused by said drunk friends of "cheating" in the moral sense (if hardly in the legal sense), thinks nothing of pointing out that (1) these words in fact appear on a widely available list of "vowel dumps" that anyone with an internet connection can easily seek out and learn if they care enough to do so, and (2) though these words seem pretty random, Scrabble vocabulary is hardly an anything-goes proposition, specifically because there is an international organization of people who really care about this stuff and whose administration of the rules and their application reflects said high degree of caringness. In contemporary terms now: don't hate the player, hate the game.

Having thus passed from being someone who only thought he was good at Scrabble to being someone who knows he's nowhere near an "expert" (and there is, as with the words themselves, a finite definition of experthood), I have also made the concurrent transition from being someone who viewed studying such lists of meaningless words as "cheating" to being someone who understands that access to such lists or the willingness to make them oneself represents so much less than half the battle. To compete on the highest levels of this game, you still need a steel trap mind, a killer instinct, and an iron poker face; if you lack any of these, experienced players will summarily devour you. You do, admittedly, also need to know a lot of words that you're highly unlikely to encounter anywhere else. Even so, "knowing" them is one thing, "finding" them in crucial moments of a game is another; and that throws the whole proposition back on to familiar territory: practice.

As professor Jerry Luckhardt at the U of MN would always say, "Practice is not a sign of weakness or insecurity." It certainly is not cheating either. Get a bunch of drunk music majors together some weekend and they will unite behind this battlecry concerning their own metier, then decry it in the next breath once someone grabs the Scrabble board off of a nearby bookshelf and deals them a death by a thousand cuts using some of the over 1,000 permissible 2- and 3-letter words. The truth is that the two pursuits are overwhelmingly similar in their Gladwellian dimensions: the intuitive genius and the hapless grinder are, while not unheard of, exceedingly rare birds both in Scrabble and in music. There is also this: given a modicum of discipline and motivation (the afterburn of having one of those vowel dumps played on you for the first time and then losing your challenge seems to provide an adequate, if temporary, dose of both for most drunk music majors), there's no reason virtually any fully developed adult couldn't grasp the most basic elements of high-level Scrabble in one sitting, thereby becoming nearly unbeatable in occasional drunk living room games against less enterprising friends while expending a disproportionately paltry amount of effort. Similarly, I have often found it both maddening and heartbreaking when my adult students seem unable or unwilling to solidify foundational skills and knowledge that would open up the world for them. Too many hobbyists look at professionals with the same mixture of awe and contempt that my music major friends point in my direction when I take the rack AICNNRT and drop down TYRANNIC through a Y for 80-some points. The truth of the matter, though, is that while I've put in only a fraction of the time the experts have, I have made an investment, I have put some thought into prioritizing certain tasks over others in the limited time I am willing to devote specifically to Scrabble, and it has been sufficient to deliver a much more enjoyable and satisfying Scrabble experience. Some find it off-putting simply that you can be capable of plays like the one described above and not yet be near the experts. They should not feel this way: you get out of it what you put into it, and there is plenty of fulfilling, even exhilarating grey area to be inhabited without jeopardizing prior commitments to other life-dominating pursuits.

If you have an iOS device and a Facebook account, let's play Scrabble over the interwebs sometime. I promise I won't go easy on you.

14 November 2014

13 November 2014

RIP my eMusic account (2010-2014)

I could easily have rolled this into yesterday's dispatch but thought it deserved its own entry: after almost exactly four mostly happy years, I've put my eMusic subscription on hold and am likely to walk away entirely in the near future. By the time I first signed up for eMusic, paid MP3 downloads were already on their way out of fashion. I nonetheless have appreciated and enjoyed many facets of the experience: offline access, crazy as it is to say in 2014, is still a boon; the ability to dump transcribables into the software of my choice is highly preferable to wrestling with Spotify; making and tending to my many lists is a vice I'll never outgrow; the motivation to "get into" rather than merely "get through" my purchases, which is a motivation even I need from time to time now that streaming and total access are increasingly the norm, has been good to have; and though eMusic has been infamously secretive about their artist compensation system, certainly more of my money has gone to artists this way than if I had done my repeat listening on Spotify.

I'm jumping ship now because eMusic has, in a move that smacks of desperation, reverted to their original purview of featuring strictly "independent" music, a purview which evidently excludes ECM. Not only is almost all of ECM missing from Spotify, but digital purchases from this label, though they were invariably priced higher than eMusic's default scheme, were significantly cheaper this way than physical media. I am certainly of two minds about all of this since I think eMusic made a big mistake abandoning its mission the first time; and yet unfortunately my sole use for the site over the last couple of years has been access to this "major" label. Now I have three months to think of another one.

And speaking of reverting, I have already begun cleansing myself in the waters of materialism:

12 November 2014

On the Scarcity of Scarcity

I have a confession to make, again: contrary to what you might assume about someone having such a tough time "making it" as an artist (and being apt to write about it at such length), I find it awfully hard to get upset about the existence of Spotify. Certainly I am a consumer as well as a producer of content and have taken full advantage of the digital apocalypse to deepen and broaden my own listening; and certainly I am just young enough that I've never lived in a world where an income stream from record sales was ever a reasonable career expectation. Those are obvious points that you've heard before or thought yourself, and I hope this one is too: scarcity is not coming back, so we had better learn to live with abundance. Why should that be so hard to do?

As Cory Doctorow so aptly pointed out in Content, a big part of getting this particular genie back in the bottle would be to make computers less capable, and that simply is not going to happen. Then again, this twenty-first century problem is, I think, too often posited in place of a more basic, nineteenth century one: when we traded in cultural consensus for a modicum of freedom of expression, and similarly music-as-craft for the romanticized, singular, freelance artist, the wheels were set in motion, even as the technology remained over a century away. We remain miles away from a truly "free" society, but what freedom we do have in the aesthetic arena is gained at the direct expense of cultural consensus. The more we have of one the less there will be of the other. If you are one of those people who would draw the analogy between downloading a song and shoplifting a candy bar, I think you have not completely grasped this point. At the very least, with specific regard to Spotify, which is legal and market-driven, this old trope no longer fits at all.

And aah, the market. Since I'm on such a roll, shouldn't I have more mean stuff to say here about capitalism? Could I possibly have shot all of my bullets not yet halfway through Blog Month? Allow me to reload: the whole conceit of "American Ingenuity" and "competition driving innovation" is a fucking ruse. The roadmap is and for the most part always has been to gain near-monopolistic control, by hook or by crook, over essential resources and services that people need just to stay alive (e.g. health care), to artificially manipulate supply and pricing, and then profit off of our literal desperation. I don't doubt that capitalist competition has been great for spurring businesses onward towards ever more appealing non-essential consumables, and I as much as anyone else want to live in a world where we can enjoy them guilt-free and for what they are. Bona fide "innovation" is hard work, though, and consumers don't always behave in ways that would most obviously seem to represent their best interests; corporations know this, and hence also that the most reliable way to ensure handsome profitability will always be through exploiting the most basic necessities of life.

Simply put, music is not a basic necessity of life, no matter our widespread figurative insistence to the contrary. If it were, the capitalist streaming music industry would look a lot more like the capitalist health care industry and we would be having a very, very different discussion right now. And so, with the music industry thus being a more truly American, capitalist endeavor in this way, are we to take more seriously the suggestion, per Marc Ribot and others, that if things don't improve for independent at-the-margins artists they will simply go out of business as it were? Extended to its logical conclusion, this is precisely the outcome my reasoning above would predict; again, however, we all know (or should) that the notion of "rational actors" is itself something of a ruse, and most especially in an area of inquiry where rationalism itself is at best a marginal player.

To wit, have we not been hearing precisely this fatalistic prediction for over a decade now? And at the current rate of cultural and technological evolution, is a decade not a pretty decent sample size from which to conclude that more people actually are making and distributing music than ever before? At the risk of invoking the ill-fated governorship of Jesse Ventura, it seems for whatever reason that people who are smart enough to play this kind of music also are smart and resourceful enough to find ways to fund their projects. (I hope I'm not the only musician-in-the-trenches to read the Ribot blurb and think to myself, "If you gave me $15,000 to spend on a trio record, I'd have trouble spending half of it." Clearly we're dealing with very different cultural, possibly generational expectations here.) The market is indeed a powerful force, but it is not and never has been quite as powerful as this camp would make it out to be, certainly not in the specific ways they are apt to enumerate. I for one would absolutely enjoy assuming a yet more overbearing degree of righteous indignation that I am working security instead of collecting fat royalty checks, but aesthetic plurality and ease of access are real things too. Worrying about that which you can control also has its upsides.

11 November 2014

Reports of My Demise (ix)

I recall countless high school classes where I sketched compositions during time allotted for a head start on that evening's devoirs. After noting their reticence to intervene, I began silently daring my teachers to reprimand their best student for being off task. I am convinced, however, that status had far less to do with their complicity than did my choice of something as intellectual, esoteric, and over-romanticized as handmade lines-and-dots music. Perhaps on a more practical level my demonstrated ability to lap the field academically without being given extra time to finish my homework had something to do with it too. In any case, by the time it wasn't cute anymore, I was an adult and a college graduate. And man, was it ever not cute anymore. Plastic turns to Cardboard in a hurry for those of us given to intellectual, esoteric, over-romanticized pursuits.

There is a similar reticence that prevails out in the liberal bourgie world, where relativism-as-social-grace acts as a filter and no one wants to be the first to tell you quite so baldly that "Improvising Tuba Player" is not a real job. There is in addition, as I touched upon early on in this series, the lovingly crafted, overdetermined, eminently socially and academically respectable path of university music study. And indeed, not only was I myself almost impossibly meritorious in this academic arena, but my particular mancessory, the tuba, is typically so difficult to recruit that my undergrad school picked up virtually the entire tab for my studies there. And so I left behind high-powered academics in one fell swoop to become a student-athlete of sorts, privy to none of the social perks while suffering from many of the same drawbacks, namely an intellectually stilted curriculum and profoundly limited employment prospects post-graduation. Had I not concurrently taken a student job with the campus security department at a time of rapid post-9/11 growth in both the public and private security sectors, who knows how I would have supported myself in the interim. Indeed, this led me to make yet another statistical contribution to Hanna Rosin's work: I am a college graduate, and now a graduate degree holder, who has never held a job that requires a post-secondary education.

Even having excelled at my course of study and having managed to remain blissfully free from the crushing debt faced by most of my peers, I less launched myself into the real world than did an epic faceplant in its lap. Certainly my timing could not have been worse: an historical recession was on the horizon and, in related news, Western art music had never been less marketable. I don't deny, however, that my distinctively male unwillingness to "adapt" has profoundly shaped this leg of my journey as well. This series of posts has been devoted largely to defending that posture and to enumerating its potentially broader, gender-neutral social utility.

Most of the people I have known who are making a real living as musicians are not the best musicians. Some of them are quite far from it. What distinguishes them, in my experience, is their willingness to do just about anything to achieve this. They will play, teach, and quite frankly, say anything they have to, walking right up to the line between ethical and unethical behavior, and in occasional cases crossing ever so slightly over to the other side. There is, meanwhile, a small collection of people I can count on one hand who are even more uncompromising and sensitive to issues of honesty than I am, who have strongly influenced the way I go about my own business, whose work I find unusually compelling, and who, like me, have generally had a much tougher time of it.

I know, I know, you've heard the art-versus-commerce whine-fest before and you're not too keen on rehashing it through the eyes of a latent mancessionist. If you insist on more excitement, I defy you once again to ponder the deep, dark questions lurking all around this old trope as the (un)willingness to compromise enters popular discourse as a decidedly gendered concern.

The gendering of compromise is a central theme of Rosin's The End of Men. It is a maneuver which holds up quite nicely in the polite company she evidently keeps. The Arts are in this way, though, a far less polite domain, which is why there's no trace of a Maria Schneider, Ingrid Jensen, or Nicole Mitchell anywhere to be found here. How naively parochial and presumptuous such a list is when we're talking about mainstream journalism for mainstream readers; but for me, working in a field where such remarkable women are still breaking ground, it's hard to ignore their being ignored.

In the place they might have occupied, we are of course left with that fleeting, threadbare caricature of a hyper-bourgeois "creative class" of mercenary consultants and entertainment industry frill-mongers, proxies for more substantive notions of creativity and insults to the aesthetic risk-takers who anonymously feed the machine from below. Rosin must understand that creativity and compromise are, if not truly anathema, then at least strange bedfellows, which is why she forgoes meaningful engagement with the kind of art and artists that, wittingly or otherwise, challenge bourgeois values. She sticks instead to an investigation of the new "Plastic Woman" (7) who is "nurturing" (124), "approachable and consumer responsive" (135), "more nimble and responsive to trends." (248) These are above all women who "tend to respond to social cues and bend their personalities to fit in what the times allow," (191) all while demonstrating "the willingness to adapt and bend to a fast-changing economic landscape." (270)

As I encountered each of these turns of phrase for the first time, I was constantly reminded of a paper by Gordon Downie which I had dug up for a prior research project:

With the expansion of free-market neo-liberalization in the form of Thatcherite and Reaganite economics...those performance measures associated with commodity form and behavior have spread to encompass not only public sector services such as health care, utilities, infrastructure, and education, but also cultural provision and production...

...any organization or individual seeking to maximize their strategic advantage in society will be required to adopt those behaviors that are congruent with those metrics of performance associated with marketization and commodity form. Phrases such as "selling yourself" and "making the right impression" point to a process that seeks the extension of the commodity form away from material artifacts and goods to soft services and interpersonal behavior profiling. (197)

'Cultural Production as Self-Surveillance: Making the Right Impression.' Perspectives of New Music 46. 1 (Winter 2008)

At some point in the not-so-distant past, the phrase "Well-behaved women rarely make history" achieved that certain critical mass required to find its way onto a popular bumper sticker. In those terms, the most disturbing aspect of Rosin's Plastic Woman is what a well-behaved capitalist she is. Of course, the key takeaway from The End of Men is that the world we now live in seems keen on rewarding these characteristics to a greater degree than ever before, rendering that bumper sticker a tad bit miscalibrated and odiously vengeful. And yet, anyone who has been shopping for something other than groceries has seen what "the extension of the commodity form away from material artifacts and goods to soft services and interpersonal behavior profiling" looks and feels like. I for one certainly have seen it. Perhaps I have a tad bit more empathy for these workers than the average Cardboard Man, or perhaps I have a raging case of corrugation myself since I just don't like to shop all that much, but generally this is a condition that breaks my heart and my spirit in equal measure. These are the ultimate mediated men and women, and they do not seem to be the least bit happy having been tasked with concealing their employers' criminality beneath parade smiles and complimentary bottles of spring water.

10 November 2014

Reports of My Demise (viii)

As the seminal "sociobiological" account of the origins of many contemporary gender differences, anthropologist Lionel Tiger's Men In Groups is guaranteed to leave a bad taste in the mouth of social constructionists everywhere or their money back. This notwithstanding, his sidebar on the question of decoupling the notions of violence and aggression is, in my opinion, worth taking seriously. In it, he seeks to establish a "statement of difference between effective action which is part of a process of mastery of the environment, and that particularly intimate form of mastery which involves the violation of an organism's personal space and the infliction of physical pain." (159) This distinction, he continues,

allows more general use of the term 'aggression' so that it refers to a process rather than an event. Sociologically it implies a mode and direction of social organization rather than an actual circumstance of intimate intrusion. I want to regard aggression as a 'normal' feature of the human biologically based repertoire, a type of behaviour intrinsic to man's being and to his effective interaction with his social environment. Violence is not necessarily part of all or any of these. (159)

In short, all violence is aggressive but not all aggression is violent.

There are at least two important lessons here for musicians. First and foremost is that the mimetic "violence" of late-period Beethoven or Coltrane is generally overstated. Real musical violence lives in the realm of conceptual pieces which call for the destruction of instruments onstage or the lobbing of explosives into the audience; it lives where acoustic instruments and electronic playback alike are amplified to the point that they become irreparably injurious to the human sensory organs at which they are literally and figuratively aimed; and it lives anywhere lyrical content is introduced which is, relative to its audience, disturbing enough to inflict lasting emotional harm. Interstellar Space certainly is aggressive, but played at a reasonable volume for voluntary audients, it is not injurious, and so I would argue not inherently violent; neither people nor instruments are irreparably damaged by it. Saxophone reeds and drum heads are, after all, consumable items; I have heard colleagues liken the former to tampons.

Now, perhaps all of this is relative. Perhaps there are indeed people whose expectations of what music, art, and public deportment ought to be can be so traumatically violated by "dark," "angry," aggressive music as to emerge from the experience with permanent emotional scars. But when such mimetic or metaphorical violence of a player "attacking" an instrument has become so disturbing as to be received as real violence by the spectator, has a breakdown not occurred, certainly in cultural convention, but I would not hesitate to ask in common sense as well? The seeking of a perfect allegorical resemblance between the technical parameters of an art form, the physical-technical gestures necessary to execute it, and an imagined utopian world without violence is one of the less constructive inheritances of postmodernity. It is a textbook case of left becoming right, a faux-liberationist tack with a decidedly repressive outcome.

The second and final point I want to draw from this is hinted at by Tiger's use of the term "mastery" and the distinction he makes between gaining it over one's environment and over one's fellow (wo)man. I am admittedly a bit out of my league here, but it seems that the notion of mastery has taken a similar deconstructionist beating as that of aggression, and for not much better reasons. Here, though, I think it is at least possible to grant the relative nature of the concept without disavowing its usefulness. Indeed, the political problem peculiar to the art world of very particular aesthetic values being installed and enforced on the institutional level often relies on culture- and ideology-specific notions of mastery for its rudder, but I would argue that this is something of a separate question from that of mastery's abstract value and potential. Baby > Bathwater.

If cliches about the two kinds of music ("good music and the other kind") have worn thin by this stage in the game, so be it, but at least for me this one only resonates more deeply with age and experience. There are whole genres of music I loathe whose masters nonetheless get over to a certain degree, and for me that is why mastery still matters. Do what you love and invest the entire fabric of your being in it. It won't beget a perfect world, but it might at least make our time left in the one we have a trifle more enjoyable and fulfilling. As a child of the 80s, I was weaned on this kind of motivational talk; now I often feel as if I have lived, for not all that long, to see it deconstructed out and compromised away. Perhaps this is just an inevitable rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. The self-esteem stuff was always overbearing and precious, but frankly I think it might be the last line of defense against a marauding nihilism that is the inevitable consequence of a post-rationalist, post-aestheticist, post-purpose society. Certainly if even art cannot be a safe outlet for aggression, there is little to look forward to.

09 November 2014

Reports of My Demise (vii)

I'm a man, but I can change, if I have to, I guess.

(Man's Prayer, The Red Green Show)

Why pay such heed to Hanna Rosin and a years-old trope that's already been picked apart by a variety of smart people? It certainly has been a useful prompt for me to verbalize quite a few thoughts that had remained abstract and unarticulated for quite some time. It inspired me to read up on a subject other than music, probably in more depth than I ever have before. It was also a great excuse to get excited for Blog Month. Above all, though, these sorts of public mastheads for issues of great social importance and interest seldom represent the private thoughts of isolated individuals. It certainly caught everyone's attention when in the immediate wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures the right promptly dispatched David Brooks to smear The Solitary Leaker as "the ultimate unmediated man," pinning responsibility for his treasonous actions on

the atomization of society, the loosening of social bonds, the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments.

Sound like anyone we know?

Brooks continues:

If you live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society, perhaps it makes sense to see the world a certain way: Life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world. Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state.

True enough in a vacuum. But you know, Dave, I have to imagine it's easier to live such a mediated life under the watchful eye of our "gigantic and menacing state" when you've made a nice chunk of change publicly defending that state's imperial wars. Then they only spy on you for fun, or maybe for practice. The rest of us, meanwhile, can't help but be thankful that there are a few people unmediated, unpropagandized, and unafraid enough to sound the alarm on wholesale violations of the law that threaten to upend the foundations of Western civilization far more thoroughly and violently than the scourge of atomized "technological existences" among a few malcontent kids ever could.

All of that being as it is, the real tragedy here, obviously, is that no quick-witted political cartoonist seized on the opportunity to render Unmediated Man as an overweight, unshaven comic strip superhero who goes around repelling bad guys with his body odor and infiltrating government spy agencies by striking up conversations about fantasy football. Cartooning in fact was an early artistic interest of mine, long before music. At my youthful behest mom even shuttled me off to a few Saturday morning cartooning classes in middle school; I however found representational drawing, then as now, intensely difficult, and quickly gave up. And so the Unmediated Man franchise may be licensed free of charge by any more skilled cartoonist who cares to do so. You're welcome.

In the end, about all I can say for David Brooks is that at least he has the good sense to focus his laser beam of mediated male ire on issues of pressing importance, misguided though he seems almost exclusively be. The military, the police, the private security industry, and the New York Yankees meanwhile all fixate publicly and overbearingly on the minutiae of grooming as expressions of mediated masculine discipline. Is finding the time and willpower to shave every single day really such a harrowing accomplishment? Perhaps I could forgive the casual observer for thinking that some of us indeed find it to be an impossible challenge. The reality, though, is not that it is too hard but rather too easy, too insubstantial, too ornamental. The unshaven are not the class clowns; we are the kids whose schoolwork isn't challenging us. For a real, unmediated challenge, we might just decide to piss our lives away in isolation pursuing mastery of esoteric bodies of knowledge and their attendant technical skills with virtually no worldly social or material incentive beyond our own self-fulfillment and, perhaps if we're lucky, occasional small validations of our irrational faith in the greater social utility of such seemingly decadent pursuits. You want a challenge? Put down your fucking safety razor and try that shit on for size. Do any of you in these industries realize that you're not only committing the Fallacy of the Beard, but in fact committing it about beards? And in the name of "discipline?" How fucking pathetic is that?

I'm not above ruthlessly questioning the "social utility" of any artist's work, of course, nor am I prepared to crown each and every "whistleblower" a national hero on the spot without a frank assessment of the particulars. Once again, as with Plastic Woman and Cardboard Man, our galling collective predisposition toward black-and-white analyses rears its head: Mediated or unmediated? Hero or traitor? Seldom are things so simple, and seldom can relationships to "family, neighborhood, religious group," and especially not to something as baldly trivial as grooming tell us everything we need to know about someone. More importantly, it likely tells us nothing at all about whether the release of a secret government document is a matter of urgent civic necessity or how it impacts the personal safety of Americans overseas. Crummy people occasionally do heroic things, and vice versa.

There's nothing noble in achieving discipline over something trivial or something loathed. A task is not too easy simply because you love it; indeed, the pursuit of mastery often entails summarily eradicating the honeymoon phase, discovering all manner of unseemly corners of one's metier and oneself, and inevitably falling, at least partially, out of love. There's no surer way to become unenamored of a jazz solo than to transcribe it down to its smallest details, no surer way to dethrone a lines-and-dots composer than close examination of a score to reveal, often enough, frighteningly simplistic approaches. To uninhibitedly love a music is to keep it at arm's length; getting closer more or less mandates making an often uncomfortable peace with its shortcomings as they become increasingly perceptible. Some of us so inclined were damaged goods from the start, never destined to excel at the Americanist meritrocracy; others were impeccably qualified and simply couldn't be bothered to do both things at once. But make no mistake that the true artist is, by definition, the furthest from an unmediated man or woman, no matter their metier, and especially not because or in spite of the aesthetics of their appearance.

08 November 2014

Reports of My Demise (vi)

It's telling that the popular saying "The customer is always right" is seldom uttered without a hint of sarcastic contempt. That's because, as anyone who has actually sold goods or services of virtually any type has learned, the customer is almost always wrong. Wildly, comically wrong.

Why is this? We become customers when we need something we don't have, and even where "services" become reified into "goods," usually this something is, in part, knowledge. You seek out a mechanic to determine that your car needs $1500 worth of work, but because you are a Customer, you respond that you can afford $800 to get it marginally drivable and that they should be happy to have your business goddamn it. You want to know what you really need, but you will take less in order to pay what you intended to pay from the start. And so, when you sit down at conferences with your children's band teacher and this teacher insists that Johnny and Susie really need to practice more, that receiving one-on-one instruction from an established professional player would greatly help to focus this practice time, and that in the broadest sense these children will "get out of it what they put into it," you are apt to say to yourself, "Gee whiz, Mozart, it's not like we're training professional musicians here. Music is for nourishing mind, body, and soul, for helping my kids get into Yale, and for tickling their neural pathways just so, leading to success at, you know, real life jobs, like stockbroker and financial analyst. And besides, they already have soccer Mondays, youth group Tuesdays, quilting Wednesdays..." Maybe you think these things to yourself, or maybe you go out and write an op-ed to this effect for a major dead-tree media outlet. Or, if you're really ambitious, maybe you install yourself at the helm of an arts non-profit in order to spread the wisdom of protracted dabbling and gross overcommitment. Hey, you and your kids all turned out great, didn't you?

Those of us who have, perhaps ill-advisedly, chosen to devote the entire fabric of our being to music know better than to think that any student, no matter the modesty or grandiosity of their ambitions, musical or otherwise, could ever reap the benefits these people constantly namecheck from the kind of distanced, half-suspicious quasi-engagement their actions tend to beget. And yet most customers simply will not buy real musical education. Many will not or cannot accept it even free of charge; I know because I and those around me have tried to give it away on more than one occasion.

In news to no one, the idea of music moves the needle for parents and students while the reality of music does not. Vendors know the reality, customers only the idea, but it is the customer who is, in our society, always right. Exceptions are not unheard of, but they are rare. I have done my fair share of sales-pitching in committee meetings and planning sessions, in conversations with prospective parents and job interviews with prospective employers, for the kind of intense, no-holds-barred, academically rigorous and intellectually stimulating music education that has made me who I am both on- and off-stage. I typically face little or no dissent as to the abstract value of what I am proposing, but all manner of fierce resistance to its implementation. This is because customers will not buy it, administrators know that customers will not buy it, and, well, you know the rest.

The ostensibly charitable segments of the arts economy upon which virtually all practicing artists today rely directly or indirectly to support themselves financially, and which, perhaps more importantly, essentially serve as the last remaining justification of our very existence, replacing aesthetic- and morally-grounded cultural consensus which has fragmented well beyond retrieval, are in spite of their loudly proclaimed "not for profit" legal status nonetheless profoundly consumer-driven enterprises. These are milieus where the heat and light of constructive competitiveness and the pursuit of mastery look just animalistic enough to turn the stomachs of the Bourgeoisie upon which they disproportionately rely for support and validation. They are where uncompromised, unmediated, untriagulated musical pedagogies and traditions go to die. And all of that is to say that they are, at least if you buy the analysis of contemporary gender constructions seized on by Hanna Rosin in The End of Men, profoundly and intrinsically feminine structures.

Certainly for those of us more or less on the outside looking in, its feminine construction explains several facets of the arts education job market: the inverse correlation between the number of teaching opportunities and the age of the students; the flooding of popular music into a socio-aesthetic-epistemological space formerly reserved exclusively for art music; and a willingness to compromise away rigorous pedagogies, the ones which might actually help justify so many public policy battle cries that that The Arts are core academic subjects, but which customers inevitably balk at on account of what is demanded of them in return to make good on this promise.

As I try to recall some of the specific places I have heard or read the core subject battle cry, I in fact can conjure only images of women, a useful reminder that the structuring of an institution or body of knowledge as masculine or feminine, as many theorists have argued, does not mean that only one gender participates in the structuring, or even that the majority of participants will be of that gender. And it most especially does not mean, if I may take this opportunity to preempt the obvious potential for misunderstanding of what I am getting at here, that people born with vaginas are inherently and irrevocably inferior to those born with penises when it comes to "rigorous" or "uncompromised" scholastic arenas. What it means, rather, is that the undue polarization of certain types of thought and behavior along gendered lines creates arbitrary burdens of expectation which mediate our ability to become our authentic selves. And so the facts on the ground leave me to wonder if the "core subject" trope has not become just one more marketing tagline that few of the men or women who might utter it out of self-interest would actually be willing to fight for.

Are you?

07 November 2014

06 November 2014

Reports of My Demise (v)

For middle class children fortunate enough to have access to them, The Arts lay out a uniquely treacherous path from success to failure, starting (and often ending) with the fact that you can major in them through the doctoral level at most of this country's best public and private universities. Many of my peers have sardonically labeled this a pyramid scheme, and I am not above backing that interpretation. Indeed, it is fair to say that we have done a very good job of building and sustaining institutionalized programs of pre-professional artistic training for the middle and upper classes to enjoy, and concurrently a piss-poor job of taking our work to the streets. The latter is, in fairness, and as anyone who has tried can tell you, easier said than done, and not merely on account of aesthetics or access: the centrist upper-middle classes and apolitical nouveau riche are hardly the only families who might balk at a child who wishes to pursue a professional arts career. For poorer Americans and recent immigrants with aspirations of upward mobility, I imagine the pigeonhole Western society reserves for its artists must look like a great place to continue toiling in economic purgatory, which of course in many ways it is. Predictably, becoming a rich celebrity is a more common aspiration, even though the odds of being able to eke out an existence teaching lessons and playing money gigs are exponentially greater.

Indeed, in the United States we have seen tremendous recent influxes of immigrants from cultures with radically different conceptions of art and music than those brought here by previous waves of Central Europeans and West Africans. And of course, it is hardly unheard of for such groups to bring with them as well regressive gender politics which greatly circumscribe both men's and women's roles and career options. This poses a great challenge, if not out-and-out crisis, to liberal multicultural idealism. For one thing, American Westernist arts organizations, especially orchestras and museums, which were founded decades or centuries ago with very particular cultural purviews are now being challenged by many on the left to better reflect today's America or lose their charitable status, intrinsically if not legally. The aesthetic results of such triangulation tend, predictably, to be disastrous, which is the first, best reason to seek a better solution. To be sure, a panoply of isolated conservatist vacuums is not that solution either, just a different kind of disaster. Culture is living and living things evolve! Decaying carcasses stink to high heaven, and so does formaldehyde. Synthesis irrevocably defines both American music and global postmodernity; it would be the ultimate regressive maneuver to artificially inhibit this essential human intellectual process out of a precious sentimentality for native cultures. Remember kids, space is curved, so let's not drift so far left that we end up on the right.

I am not saying that nothing is lost when the last exponent of a native tradition passes away. Nothing lasts forever, though, and the ritual maiming of our own traditions and institutions out of white liberal guilt is the least constructive response. What would behoove these institutions of ours is to seek and support multicultural, pan-stylistic artists who are smart, dedicated, and altruistic enough to push beyond facile pastiche and quotation into finer creative granularities; who do not merely dabble in various traditions but have made deep concurrent investments in two or more of them, achieving a pre-modern degree of idiomatic authority therein as a prerequisite to constructive synthesis; and whose constituent influences thus operate at deeper perceptual levels. All of that is to say: artists whose work clearly sounds different, but may not sound the least bit multicultural on the surface.

This question of surface, of course, points to precisely why this type of work will never be supported to the same degree as the orchestral composer who tacks a superfluous clave part onto his ersatz neo-classical drivel, or the atom-smashing puppet-master impressario who throws groups of Western and non-Western specialist musicians haphazardly together. These are affronts to non-Western traditions just as they are to Western ones; they are supported not on aesthetic merit, nor simply because they are multicultural, nor, I don't think, because of some vast liberal-multiculturalist conspiracy, but rather because their multiculturalism is transparent enough to be perceptible to administrators too dense to perceive it otherwise, and because those administrators see their lives flash before their eyes with each new wave of immigration. In other words, because we live in a "democracy," and because more is more.

The question of how our life experience finds its way into our art is in one sense almost too obvious to bear verbalizing: traffic is bad one night, you lose an hour you had blocked off for composing, you return to the piece the next day in a different state of mind and write something either slightly or wildly different than you would have otherwise. But of course this quotidian sense is not the one which the most overdetermined aesthetic identity politics invoke: in that sphere, rather, identity issues must be overbearingly worn on one's sleeve, laid on with brute force, and articulated with all the sophistication of a jackhammer. Victimry and deviance become coveted locations from which to make art, even as it becomes ever more apparent, and not least to theorists from this very milieu, that these are matters of degree for each and every one of us and not isolated, privileged perspectives that we either do or do not inhabit. Indeed, in contravention of so much overdetermined deconstructionist insistence that identity inevitably shapes aesthetics, the contemporary paradigm is not one where identity simply finds its way into the work, but rather one where it must be put there as conspicuously, self-consciously, and overbearingly as possible, as if out of fear that it might otherwise fail to turn up.

Is my evident skepticism about all of this merely a dressed-up version of "I don't mind x people as long as they act like y?" I am not an expert in any non-Western musical traditions, so I will eat my words here if anyone who is wants to put forth a compelling case that postmodern pastiche is an essential cultural and aesthetic value in one or more of them. Perhaps my privileging of "finer creative granularity" is a more contestable, Westernist maneuver. In my defense, the West best knows the dictum that influence begets depersonalization not as a multiculturalist battle cry but as a well-chronicled phase of juvenile misconception through which virtually all of us have passed and from which a few inevitably fail to emerge. Depth of engagement with a variety of streams is, rather, is the surest path toward individualism in our paradigm. The more and finer the granules, the less perceptible their individual sources; conversely, the people whose pieces sound like teetering Jenga towers of superficial references are the ones who have fewer influences and know them less thoroughly.

Style, be it a decadent aestheticist contrivance or an ancient aural continuum, is above all a trivial, surface feature that too often distracts us from deeper conceptual affinities among musical works. Tribalism is the ascription of ancestral thoughts and actions to all living genetic exponents, and hence the source of "us versus them" mentalities that blind members to such "deeper conceptual affinities" shared with other "tribes." And to be sure, it is in depth and not in surface, in reconciliation and not in tribalism, that any constructive multiculturalism qua multiculturalism must trade. Aesthetically that is. #SorryNotSorry conceptual art people, but in news to no one who reads these dispatches, I really just care about aesthetics.

To that end, a final thought: to construct a piece out of the coarsest stylistic granules is to make the underlying concept transparent and the surface contour uneven. Finding a "match" between two such granules is inherently a process of trial-and-error and minimally if at all one of exercising the will. It seldom rises beyond the level of an ironically inelegant mosaic comprised of just two unwieldy, misshapen panels. Sounds like...conceptual art, right? Indeed, conceptual art makes its nut in this space, not infrequently at the hostile, direct, and intentional expense of the pre-modern traditions referenced, and often in precisely the manner I am describing. Adherents of those traditions, even if they have no other use for conceptual art, could undoubtedly learn something by paying more attention to it; perhaps the world is trying to tell them something.