Sunday, November 2, 2008

On Writing Binges

It is conference season, and with it comes understandable professional pressures. As you may or may not know, I presented a part of my second chapter from my dissertation at SEM last weekend. In just a few days, I will be getting on a plane for Nashville to attend AMS. Normally conference season is my most unproductive. Whatever work I do is generally focused on older projects, and I direct the rest of my energy to other professional activities, like schmoozing and thinking about all of the new ideas circulating in the field(s) of music research. But this year is a little different, not just because I am on the job market, but also because I haven't altered my writing schedule.

I discovered sometime on Friday evening that I have inadvertently slipped into chapter draft completion mode. (This is not to be confused with final revision mode, which shares some attributes but is really a separate animal altogether.) This became glaringly obvious when I chose an evening of working on my dissertation over two very enticing Halloween parties. Something is clearly wrong with me!

My understanding of my own writing process is that sometime after I do the majority of the research on a chapter, I finally assimilate the information and my subconscious works out some of my major theoretical blocks. And then I decide that the blocks are mostly gone and I can work out the chapter in a first draft form. In short, the fretting and worrying that hinders me gives way to a firm belief that I can produce something coherent even if it needs to be rewritten/revised in the very near future. I solve a version of the dissertation puzzle, and then I really want to write. And write. And write.

This is what I call "chapter draft completion mode." In this mode of existence, everything else in my life fades away, even really enticing things like friends' parties, and I just want to get the darn chapter done. It eventually becomes compulsive. I binge. I treat my computer as an appendage. I carry many books around with me just so that they will remind me of certain crucial points. My sleep patterns change. I have to remind myself to eat. I can't sustain my focus on much of anything else.

I first experienced this mode of writing about a year ago when I promised an outside member of my committee a completed chapter draft by October 1. I proceeded to spend the last week of September hiding in a TA office on campus with my computer and books, finally hashing out all of the little details of my very first chapter. The final result was a predictable disaster, and it took me many months to clean up that mess. I've been trying to avoid that kind of overly messy writing binge ever since.

The good news is that I know what this is. And hopefully I will have this monster known as my chapter 4 relatively under control by a self-imposed due date hanging in the future. One can only hope.

Friday, October 31, 2008

New Doctor

Congrats to fellow blogger and friend PMG, the world's newest PhD in Musicology!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dance Sub-Genres and Pop Remixes

At the moment, I'm stuck in an airport in Chile on a 12-hour layover. An overnight bus-ride followed by a bumpy flight over the Andes means that I am physically exhausted from lack of sleep. And after 7 weeks of research, I am also really tired of thinking about my dissertation. Given the above, I thought I'd talk about something else that has been on my mind lately: dance music sub-genre loyalty.

Last summer, one of the students in my electronic dance music class called me out on something I never would have expected. To paraphrase, he said that fans of a certain electronic dance music sub-genres will always find pop music remixes within their preferred genre to be more emotionally evocative than those from others. It was the always that stuck with me and inspired my current train of thought.

In most dance music scenes, genre loyalty is fairly important, especially for the DJs involved. I have always been honest about my loyalties: when it comes to dancing, I'm a tech-house girl. This means that I enjoy most variants of house music as well as detroit techno. What really gets me moving (at times involuntarily), however, are the meeting points between the two genres. House is really my first love when it comes to dance music, mostly because of the genre's honesty about what it is really about: making people move with a four-to-the-floor beat that is unmistakable with soulful vocals on top. So when I hear a particularly well-executed house or tech-house remix of a pop song from the other end of the pop music universe that I already like, I go nuts and I need to dance. (This once happened when I was listening to a DJ mix tape while driving and I nearly crashed the car... One more reason why I no longer drive...)

But if I take my student's comments to heart, my current favorite dance remix is way out of bound for me: DJ Tiësto's remix of "Crosses" by José Gonzalez. I already liked "Crosses" in its original format, but the Tiësto version has had me bouncing around South America for weeks now. For me, the song is way more haunting and intense in its dance-floor version in a way that is entirely rare for me. I think it might have to do with just how spare the original production was for the quiet acoustic sound of Gonzalez's recording. But by adding the four-to-the-floor THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP with a gradual (yes, progressive) development more typical to trance during the track's six minutes, the urgency of the song just pops right out.

I love this remix way more than I should. I have avoided Tiësto (and trance) for years. He's the kind of trance DJ that is so legendary for appealing to the sub-genre's base. I am no trance loyalist. I teach the music, and I like some of it, but I would never attend a trance DJ event. I dunno... maybe tech-house shows my age. And when I talk to other house fans who avoid Tiësto, they have the same reaction to this dance mix. They like the mix but feel a little surprised that something by a anthemist like Tiësto would work so well. Yet there it is.

I don't really care about it when I listen to the mix and can't stop moving. Perhaps all this harping on sub-genre loyalty is inaccurate when it comes to pop music remixes, and maybe if Kaskade or Miguel Miggs had remixed this song I would be that much more elated; however, I believe that remixing a song to the point where certain emotions emerge with that much more force is a talent that requires skill. I have been humbled by Tiësto: he has reminded me that there is no room for genre loyalty when you just want to move.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A PhD in Horribleness

When I tell people over a certain age that I study musicals, they seem to feel obliged to do one of two things. Either they ask me what my favorite musical is (I don't have an answer to that one; sorry), or they tell me, conspiratorially, that they know all the words to West Side Story.

I'm not kidding; all Americans who were aware in 1957 know every last word of West Side Story. This odd tidbit is often used to begin a tiresome conversation about how musicals after WSS have really not lived up to its gold standard, an attitude common even among scholars of the musical theatre (British spelling specially added for extra pretension!). "Why have musicals fallen out of the public consciousness," my despondent yet articulate interlocutors ask; "why are they no longer a part of our collective knowledge?"

Here I can finally respond, "they still are." Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog represents the culmination, for many show fans, of a trend that has been building for over a decade, the parody musical. From The Bitter Suite episode of Xena: Warrior Princess (1998) and Joss' own Once More, With Feeling (2001), to Broadway productions like Urinetown (also 2001), Avenue Q (2003) and the aptly named [title of show] (this past Thursday), there have been upwards of a dozen musicals about being musicals in recent history.

Such a commercially and critically successful phenomenon can only exist when the idea of the musical still has a firm grip on the hearts and minds of at least a significant percentage of the populace. The jokes aren't funny once we've forgotten the language they employ, the language of the musical. Luckily, despite the insistent nostalgia of the over-fifty crowd, we haven't forgotten it. We've just let it grow and develop, as languages will if not policed. Musicals, much to the chagrin of certain older scholars, didn't stop changing when Dick Rodgers finally croaked.

Now to the matter at hand: Dr. Horrible. Unlike most of the other musicals listed above, Dr. Horrible does not explicitly acknowledge its parody status, except in its title. Nevertheless, it clearly plays on commonly recognized tropes of the musical comedy, intertwining them hilariously with those of comics and television. The result is something that cannot truly be slotted into any of the three media, a parodic hybrid that has become characteristic of...The Internet (dramatic thunderclap). Joss has always been a master of the ironic tribute, a form that affectionately satirizes its source material, and Dr. Horrible is no exception.

An example: The Act I finale ("A Man's Gotta Do") recalls, among many other classic musical theater numbers, the opening of Sondheim's A Little Night Music, "Now Later Soon." Each character presents his/her point of view in a solo, then the solos overlap into a trio texture for an exciting finish. Despite the overlap, every word is distinctly audible, and the contrasting personalities show clearly through. Consummate musico-lyrical craftsmanship, demonstrating a knowledge of the traditions of the genre, but capped with Dr. Horrible's exasperated "Balls!," in case the viewers accidentally started taking it too seriously.

This comedic-but-knowledgeable attitude is maintained throughout the musical numbers, with only a few breaks: the opening duet of Act II ("Any dolt with half a brain"), Penny's solo "Here's a story of a girl," the verse of Dr. Horrible's "Look at these people," and much of the final song, "Here Lies Everything." In fact, all of the songs sung by or about Penny are serious, musically foreshadowing her tragic fate and its consequences. Nevertheless, even these somber moments are leavened with...levity, one might say, by the visual accompaniment. The musical comedy is, after all, a comedy.

Or is it? Dr. Horrible is hilarious, of course. But Dr. Horrible isn't a comedy. An English teacher once told me that the difference between a comedy and a tragedy is that a comedy ends with everyone getting married, while a tragedy ends with a stage full of bodies. While this definition is facile, it does provide a way to view Dr. Horrible as a tragedy--Penny ends up dead, Captain Hammer weeping on a therapist's couch, and Dr. Horrible an emotionless shell. Not exactly a happy ending.

Which brings me back to my first anecdote. West Side Story has been hailed as the elevation of the musical comedy to an art form by the replacement of "comedy" with "tragedy." Frivolity is banished, in the end, by tragic death, no matter how defiantly we recall "I Feel Pretty" and forget the gang rivalry that has been tamed into finger-snapping dance routines. Fifty years later, another musical has dared to end without the rousing choral finale, with a lead struck down in the prime of life. Is Dr. Horrible the postmodern West Side Story for the internet age?

I submit that, yes, it does fulfill the same function. For those who grew up on self-aware musicals, television, and comic books; for a generation of pop culture consumers; for any participant in fandom, however tentative, Dr. Horrible can be that touchstone, that pinnacle of cultural evolution. In only 42 minutes. When our grandchildren confess to us that they are getting PhDs in internet memology, we can shake our heads and sigh at the downfall of memes after Dr. Horrible.

Is this paean ridiculous? Am I overstating the importance of an internet meme? Quite possibly. Nevertheless, that's the reaction this sort of thing demands. Either it is dismissed as just another meme among thousands, or it is worshiped as our Savior by thousands. I'm a fan of it, certainly. Just think about how many article possibilities are lurking beneath its smooth, polished surface, a surface that I have not yet begun to scratch!

Scratch away, readers.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Cause for Celebration

Act II of Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible exceeds all expectations (and it is certainly a welcome distraction from my field work). I may not specialize in musical theater, but I can certainly identify dorky fodder for musicologists when I see it.

Anyone more specialized in the genre care to comment?

Friday, July 4, 2008

The not beautiful in music

As someone who generally studies the uglier aspect of making music (i.e. blatant urbanity, consumerism, international tensions, etc.), I feel it is time for me to answer the question that is on everyone's mind: how do I weigh the not beautiful in the music I study. (Disclaimer: in many ways, this post is a continuation of Phil's non-answer to a vague trend in the musicology blogosphere and AMS list.)

For the last few weeks I've been in São Paulo, Brazil, the largest city in South America and the 3rd largest city in all of the americas, to finish up the ethnographic portion of my dissertation research. This city is urban in a way that only few cities in the world can approach: the air quality is terrible, there is far more concrete and high walls than I ever imagined, and there is a vibrant cultural and intellectual community including a very exciting music scene. At the same time, São Paulo also has the occasional logistical disaster (read: metro stoppages, and yesterday DSL failed in the entire state) and constant fears of crime exacerbated by social class divisions (sequestrados or kidnappings are fairly common for the elite as are helicopter flights to avoid traffic jams). I provide the above summation to give you an idea of the stark urbanity that currently informs my perspective on beauty, or lack thereof.

São Paulo was not originally part of my dissertation. I had originally planned to focus on the music industry in Rio de Janeiro, a place that is much more frequently associated with beauty and tourism despite its alarmingly high crime rate. For many reasons, I opted to spend a fair amount of time here because the city is so important to Brazilian cultural output. My tiny ethnography is now officially multi-sited. Isn't that cool? But what this means is that I've been spending a lot of time talking to music industry professionals all around a city known for its intense work ethic. Rarely do we talk about such ideas as beauty. The closest I've come to direct references to the beautiful in music are concepts such as "risk," as in this label took a huge risk on releasing that artist's CD, "performance skill," and "quality." They generally don't talk about beauty. Even the musicians that I have interviewed don't mention beauty as an overriding concept. They will use words like "exciting" or "interesting" to describe music that they like, but not beauty, even if they are trying to stir my interest in a new artist.

Just yesterday I spoke with a very prominent and successful individual in São Paulo's music scene (in a stunning apartment overlooking Ave. Paulista). When the subject of James Blunt came up, I could not suppress my disdain for his music, and he concurred. Then he said something that struck me as surprisingly in line with a concept that has dogged many a scholar in popular music studies (and this blog) for quite some time : "there is a big difference between the music that I enjoy, and the music that I dislike but I know others will enjoy." Was he directly referencing beauty or ugliness in any way? No. But his comment reminded me that in a place like the music industry, there is rarely time to consider such questions as aesthetics. Preferences and públicos (the Portuguese word for audiences) are always at the forefront, though. I guess nothing forces out aesthetic relativity like the world of cultural commerce. I can't say I have anything to complain about on that matter.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Musicology Jobs.

I think I’m going to start at the end. First, my end: after three years I miraculously landed a tenure track job at an RU/VH University. Second, the works cited list: the musings below were inspired by the following:

* The job wiki.
* The Rhetoric of the ‘Job Market’ and the Reality of the Academic Labor System by Marc Bousquet ("By 1997, the dominance of market ideology had fully bloomed into a resplendently laissez-faire structure of feeling" (224).)
* A review of Marc Bousquet’s new book How the University Works
* Sarah Gerk’s excellent presentation on Musicology Job Postings
* Blog posts about the job wiki by Ryan Raul Bañagale: Take Two (first presented as a talk at AMS) and Take One.

Much of the larger discourse surrounding the academic job market comes from within the fields of the Modern Language Association. One of the key words is "casualization," the system where much of the work of the academy is done by graduate students, post-docs, adjuncts, undergrads (!) and others who are not part of the full-time, health-insured, long-term faculty. They're neither tenured nor tenure track. Bousquet argues that supply-side adjustments to the academic market (read: admitting fewer people to graduate school) will not solve the problem of casualization. In fact, that kind of thinking--guilty as charged--reflects how deeply ideas of "the market" have influenced thinking about "the job market" in the academy. He asks: "What if, instead of constantly adjusting ourselves (and our compensation) to 'meet the needs of the market,' we started to adjust or regulate the 'market' to meet our needs?" It's a good read, I recommend it (go unions!).

Big deep breath.

Finally, thoughts on the musicology job market. As Bañagale has pointed out, the job wikis are an amazing resource. As upsetting it is to learn about a job posting by clicking on the dedicated "job wiki" bookmark on your Firefox Bookmark Bar (tm), any experienced job hunter will tell you that the wait is far worse. In return you get (to paraphrase Bañagale) both information on the type of jobs being advertised and how these positions are actually filled. In my case this year, the apparent disconnect between what Google told someone about my research and teaching and what was in the original job posting actually led to a comment in the discussion section. I feel famous!

Bañagale makes a third comment in his original post, the fact that the wiki "reveals which programs are placing their PhDs." Harvard—Bañagale’s example, and graduate institution—did great last year, placing 7 people in the jobs on the list. Bañagale argues (in his AMS talk), "Such information is helpful for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it helps perspective graduate students get a sense of which schools are having the most success." Again, I agree that this is important information. However, Harvard has undergone a significant change in faculty and graduate student make-up since I was applying to graduate school not THAT long ago. I'm an Americanist--like Bañagale--and in 2000 when I was looking at schools at which to study American music, Harvard wasn't on the list. So, while he makes a good point about the market on the one hand, the market alone will not decide where a prospective student chooses to attend graduate school. This year's acceptance list is remarkable for the range and variety of doctoral granting institutions. So far, there isn't one institution that stands out from the pack.

Like Bañagale's talk and blog posts, I think Gerk's study of the job market for Americanists is an excellent contribution to the discourse about the musicology/ethnomusicology job market. As far as I know, there hasn't been a similar study in other subfields, although I wouldn't be surprised if something appears from the ethno side of things soon (I've heard distant rumblings). She concludes, "American music specialists remain highly in-demand." After this year, I guess my personal experience might back-up this conclusion. However, what was outside the scope of Gerk’s project was information about the number of applicants. For jobs where I have been told this figure, the number is usually hovering a little below 100. If you do simple division on Gerk's figures, that's roughly 40 jobs per year for 90 people. (True, some of these people already have jobs, or are ABD, or are slightly out of field. Also true, however, is that many of these jobs go to people who already have jobs, are ABD, or are slightly out of field.) Gerk adopts the language of supply-and-demand, but only looks on the demand side.

Which brings me back to the academic job market. This academic workplace is full of term positions, part-time adjuncts, and graduate student workers. On the very top of this is a creamy layer of tenure-track and tenured faculty. Accurate figures about job placement should be easily available to prospective students in all fields. Harvard placed 7 people in one year, but they don’t admit 7 graduate students every year. In addition to this placement information, I’d like to know how many of those placed had to spend how many years adjuncting (or what-have-you) before finding a job. How many give up? How many don’t give up and don’t find employment? What is a department’s attitude towards finding non-academic employment for their students? (A commenter on the original post by Bañagale pointed out that another school had two people on the market and two people placed, another impressive statistic.)

Even after reading and digesting Bousquet's article, my gut reaction is to scream "Reduce supply! Reduce supply!” This is generally interpreted as letting less students into graduate programs. But, as Bousquet points out, there is no reason to think that this supply-side solution will fix anything. Less graduate students will probably just increase the demand for low-wage labor, not tenure track positions. There is also the fiction of the academic meritocracy, by which I mean the idea that the people who get jobs are somehow better scholars than those that don’t. (Or, in another vein, the idea that poverty is somehow noble and intrinsically related to a life of the mind.) I will be starting a job in the fall at a school I love, and I am thrilled. The search committee thought I was the best person for this particular job, but this doesn’t mean that those scholars that didn’t get tenure track jobs this year are less qualified for a tenure track job than I am.

Indeed, Bousquet’s solution, as I understand it, doesn’t even mean that I should feel too much guilt for my luck this year on the market. He recommends collective bargaining, a.k.a. unionization. The result might be to make the Assistant Professor position the most economically pleasing in the eyes of the university administration. Pay adjuncts and graduate students as much or even more as the Assistant Professor, thereby opening the road to tenure and closing the road to academic purgatory. I look forward to reading his whole book. I also look forward to advising undergraduate, graduate and professional students at my job next year. I will keep my eye on the job wiki and the field as a whole so I can help them figure out what they need to get them where I am now. But I think we need more information generally, and not just information about people (like me?) who have succeeded in the job market and are now graduate and undergraduate advisors. Individuals need to resist the assumption that the best work results in tenure track jobs, and that anyone (including yourself) who doesn’t land such a position in a reasonable amount of time only has themselves to blame. I don’t want anyone entering graduate school to be unaware of how grim the situation is, and I want all of us on the job market to be able to understand how capricious the system is. It can feel very, very personal when you get rejection after rejection. I think it’s important to temper all announcements of a high demand for musicologists with realistic information about the supply. Because even if the solution is to get away from the market-based conception of academic employment, it’s not going to happen overnight. You look for jobs in the market you have, not the market you wish you had.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Critical Intimacy and Web 2.0 Authority

For those of you who don't frequent wayne&wax, check out this excellent post about critical distance/intimacy w/r/t the new cumbia. I don't know anyone else on the musiblogosphere who so virtuosically integrates his own creative work with web2.0. Even though I thought the meme died a few months ago, the topic of intimacy with ones work is still alive and well. [Just check out the comments section of my initial foray into this quagmire!]

And for a related thread, Ryan at amusicology opens a discussion on the authority (read "legitimacy") of using such unstable sources as youtube for research and academic work. It turns out that many of our colleagues are uncomfortable with how to cite such information in our work when we would ideally use CDs and DVDs and know all the facts surrounding the originary musical event? I applaud his call for a "millenial musicology." Seriously. I add the following for all the naysayers of "millenial (ethno)musicology": in this climate of musiblogging, is such a question appropriate when DVDs and CDs of many of the most exciting tracks and videos out there exist solely for a web2.0 context? More to the point, the very instability of youtube's records can in itself be a great source of discourse and debate – the very stuff that feeds so many of our heads.

Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself. I do have a wedding to be planning, you know...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Blogging Hiatus

I feel that I have to apologize in advance, but I won't be posting much if at all in the coming weeks. Not only is it crunch time for a certain second dissertation chapter (which I was supposed to complete 3 weeks ago), but it's also that time of the year when certain conference abstracts are due as well as the last round of fellowship applications. But more important than any of these things, my partner and I are having a commitment ceremony in 12 days out in the desert.

So while I may still be riding my bicycle (in increasingly larger quantities by the week) and thinking critically about musicology, I really can't spare the emotional energy to blog about it all.

I'll see you all on the other side.

Cross-posted on Rebellion on Two Wheels

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Booming Walls, And The Like

Please forgive my silence in this area of the blogosphere. It turns that it is difficult to occupy multiple spheres at the same time, especially when one or two of them has recently become much higher in intensity. But fret not, musicology, I have not forgotten about you.

Apparently I am slow on the uptake, but Radical Musicology has an excellent article by Ian Biddle on the sound relations between neighbors. Like many of my colleagues who occassionally worry about post-WWII life in the United States, this piece set off alarm bells about how much the great move to suburbia had to do with sound.

I know that in my many years of apartment life in major metropolitan areas, sound matters. To clarify, I'm not talking about passing cars that blast reggaeton and hip-hop subsonic bass to bodies within a 50 foot radius. I'm talking about TVs positioned against the wall that you share with your bedroom. Or for the more familiar, the parties that happen to coincide with the night before you must get up early. This is the sort of urban experience that many of us look upon fondly after the fact (much as I did when I recalled the roosters that woke me up every day in Rio de Janeiro), but actually force an unwelcome sonic intimacy. And I haven't even touched upon what it feels like to audibly witness domestic disputes. Never fun.

So point your browsers over to Biddle's article. As someone avidly watching the rising influence of sonic studies/sound studies in our field(s), this is an excellent example of work that speaks directly to the concerns that many musicologists and ethnomusicologists share.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Useful Musicology

Today I walked into my regular coffee shop and to my surprise they were blasting Viennese classical music instead of their usual fair of indie rock and downtempo electronic dance music. When I enthusiastically identified the composer for the second time in a row (first Haydn, then Mozart), the gentleman behind the counter said, "well, isn't that what you are paid for?" Baristas like bartenders sometimes exude so much wisdom. Needle-drop tests aren't necessarily part of our job description (although that skill certainly helped me win my first job offer out of college), but it is what gets us the big money in copyright cases. For many outsiders, our ability to identify music determines our minimum value.

But I do have a larger point. Many of you have probably read Stanley Fish's latest column about the "value" of the humanities. (If not, go read it now.) As one of the most public intellectuals in the humanities, he says many things that make me feel validated about my existence. Or maybe not. There are many of us in the humanities and cultural studies who take great pains to argue for the relevance and utility of our field of study. I myself was once confronted with that very question on a first date. (At the time I admired that boldness of the question.)

But in those late nights when I consider the worst-case-scenario, or when I accept money-making musicology gigs outside of academia, I wonder about the utility of my field of study. What will I do if I can't fulfill my ambition to be a real live professional musicologist, not just someone who plays one on TV or the blogosphere? (I'm not sure that dead-pan humor works on blogs, but I try.) Sure, this gloomy topic might have something to do with some rather looming fellowship deadlines where I have the unpleasant task of arguing for the relevance of my dissertation topic. Or perhaps my dreary emotional state is just a symptom of Winter quarter at my institution. (One professor in my department refers to the zeitgeist of Winter and Spring quarters as the "22-week march to the summer.") We spend a lot of time arguing for relevance, and Fish rightly argues that this pursuit is misguided. Humanistic studies rarely produce concrete results.

Yet, some people automatically assume that such utility is just the case. Just a month ago, there was a moment when I was conducting field interviews when someone asked, "What can you as a musicologist do to help? What can your research results do for me?" I improvised an answer, of course, but the question still dogs me. At its root lies a question of ethics that is far more familiar to ethnomusicologists than historical musicologists. (Again, my in-between status is giving me unexpected problems.) Aside from doing our research subject "justice" when contributing to the academic discussion, does our particular brand of work afford us the opportunity to make a meaningful difference? I'm not talking about our immediate fields here (where such changes are assumed as part of intellectual discourse), but the larger "public sphere." Not all hope is lost, of course. Phil has been posting about musicologists in the public eye. And this summer the UC Humanities Research Institute is sponsoring a summer seminar to begin addressing that intersection of humanities, policy, and industry. I certainly hope these events and the ongoing popularity of other events like the Experience Music Project indicate a new possibilities for us to make a difference. But while music scholars are certainly engaging with the "public sphere" in new ways, I still feel ill-equipped to provide answers about the immediate utility and exigency of my research. This is unfortunately what needle-drops, copyright cases, and that exchange in my interview seem to be requesting. Maybe I should follow Stanley Fish's logic and just bask in my own uncertainty. It is a good place to start.

Friday, January 4, 2008

A New Year

So here it is after the new year. Kariann's back from Brazil, I am now a married man, and yet, we are still finding it hard to find time to blog. So, we're going to be pretty laidback around here, just a post or two when we feel like it.

Meanwhile, what was up with Alex Ross's column in this week's New Yorker? I like Alex's writing a lot, and plan to assign The Rest is Noise first chance I get. In fact, I just wrote on spec a syllabus for a class on modernist music, and I cheerfully included two chapters, "Death Fugue" and "Music for the People." But this column first of all makes no sense: it begins with the nonsensical assertion the sexism has nothing to do with the absence of female conductors, gives a quick positive review of Marin Alsop's work with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and then suddenly veers into discussing how boring the New York Philharmonic can be. Bizarre.

The weird "classical music isn't sexist, it just doesn't like novelty" thing gives me special pause though. It's old history at this point, but back in 1994 Alex wrote an extremely dismissive review of Feminine Endings and other New Musicology classics. He had plenty of valid points, but overall it was a pretty annoying piece: let me, Alex Ross, show you, Susan McClary, how to historicize sexuality! And there is a weird undercurrent of anxiety that somehow new musicology will destroy the institution of classical music--he literally expresses unease that Feminine Endings is read by undergraduates!

That was fourteen years ago, back before he was more comfortably ensconced at The New Yorker. Knowing his current work, I was surprised to read this old stuff. Anybody know if he ever readdressed Feminine Endings?