Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jazz, Genes, and Jizz

TLS September 11, 2009

from Stephen Brown's review of Richard Williams' "The Blue Moment: Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue" and the remaking of modern music":

Try this experiment, sing the first seven notes of the major scale, doh, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti . . . and stop on that seventh tone, the "ti." You'll feel the aching incompleteness that so wants the satisfaction of a final "doh." This is the quality that makes "doh" the central tone of the scale, and makes us feel the other tones in relationship to it. A whole system of harmonies grew to support this centredness, granting the listener a reference place in musical space skin to the position in visual space that perspective grants the viewer of a picture. And like perspective, the tonal system was rejected by Modernists. In effect, there had been, by the 1930s, two "modern" revolutions in music: a violent one under Schoenberg and his twelve-tone system; and a velvet (though ultimately more profound) one under Debussy, Satie and Ravel.

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As Debussy discovers to his delight, you can then take the most directional of chords, whose resolution would have been utterly predictable in a tonal context, and slide it freely up and down the keyboard. An enormous weight has been lifted from music's shoulders, allowing it to seem to float. At the same time, a great many listeners find themselves not particularly keen on having a determined location in relationship to the music they're hearing. They welcome the opportunity to feel lost in musical space. Some of them are happily lost there still.

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Instead of a constant sequence of chord changes, one mode sustains for sixteen bars; the same mode a half-step higher is heard for the eight-bar bridge; and then the original mode is heard for another eight. Time, compared to conventional jazz tunes, seems to dilate. The soloist has the luxury to work out the consequences of an idea with silence, repetition, variation, without the compulsion to adjust to a constantly changing harmonic environment.

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from Bettina Bildhauer's review of Merry Wiesner-Hanks's "The Marvelous Hairy Girls: The Gonzales sisters and their worlds":

Sometime around 1537, Petrus Gonzales was born on Tenerife with a rare genetic disorder that made hair grow all over his face and across his body. He was recognized as one of the "wild" or "dog-faced" men believed to exist at the outer reaches of the world, and was sent as a curiosity to the French court of Henry II and Catherine de Medici. There, he was raised as a courtier, married a smooth-faced women and had at least seven children with her. Most of them shared his furriness and also became minor court celebrities, but eventually settled together in an Italian village and fell from historical record.

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from Euan Dunn's review of Jeremy Mynott's "Birdscapes: Birds in our imagination and experience":

[A bird's "jizz"] has been defined as roughly the sum of everything about the bird that cannot be completely described--an amalgam of character, personality, Gestalt--its essence. It is this ineffable feel of the bird that an increasingly well-informed and discriminating bird-watcher nowadays expect field guides to convey and which, once mastered, is key to identifying a species in the field under testing conditions such as a fleeting glimpse at distance.

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