25 July 2014

Players, perfection and paranoia of a different color

In this case, should the sign actually say, "Population: Everyone. Now what?"
"Population1", Online Image, Linked to Business 25 July 2014
< http://linkedintobusiness.com/content/uploads/perfection1.jpg >

Stage fright, performance anxiety, plain nerves...whichever label one prefers to reference, the general experience associated with these terms tends to be one that nobody wishes on themselves or anyone else –and not just because sweaty palms are unpleasant.

The idea of losing focus and becoming negatively, hyper aware of everyone watching an unfolding performance is certainly no fun. Nonetheless, despite burying oneself in an avalanche of books on preparation, the occasional shaky set of legs is virtually inevitable among anybody putting themselves out there for evaluation. I have touched on this topic in a previous piece, as it was a part of a discussion I had with one of the members of the October Project, back in 2012. The occurrence of anxiety around musical performance is nothing unique to one type of musician or one type of situation. Simultaneously, for an occurrence so commonplace, one would imagine that additional, as well as more effective mechanisms for coping with and overcoming the problem would be hanging around in abundance for analysis and personal execution.

Why is this reality important and worth re-visiting?

This piece, from the LA Times, posted a little over a week ago on July 15, ventures into the fearful waters from a slightly different angle and prompts a reconsideration of the lines that separate the reasons for fear in artistic study, among other things elaborated on later: stage terror manifesting not from fear of inadequate musicianship or technical skill, but rather, fear of one's performance not being the choice of another, that makes the cut for a job spot among others equally as skilled. Auditions, by the nature of their underlying competitive purposes, are associated with wanting perfection and possibly fearing providing less than that and subsequently forming serious anxiety over that. However, when a player is in a room with comparable colleagues, what exactly constitutes less than perfection is not nearly as blatant; with the margins of good versus less good existing so close together, no light can peer through the space between them. Jumping right to the blunt cut of the conversation, take a look at some of these sentiments on the current state of professional level auditions and accompanying anxiety:

Today, perfection is a requirement...You must have flawless intonation, you must be a machine,

are the words of David Taylor, assistant concertmaster with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The article then paints and even more overarching picture of what auditions can be like for the modern high level musician:

Now auditions take place behind screens to ensure anonymity. For a while, tapes were sent along with résumés — before it was realized that...the result might be a record spliced together from several takes. The point of it all is to make the process as fair and democratic as possible, even though subjectivity remains key.”

Carrie Dennis, principal violist of the L.A. Philharmonic described the intense level of anonymity striven for by authorities for her audition as being akin to animal herding:

[The Philadelphia Orchestra has] carpets so the committee can't even hear the sound of the auditioners' shoes. You pick a number, you get called and herded in. It's like a cattle call."

Such statements and enforced policies are not freshly conceived, nor are they even especially bolstered thanks to the attention of any particular scandal, however, they have definitely been given even more mental priority and decision-impactive emphasis among some orchestras as the years have progressed, held back partially thanks to the varying approaches to audition and interpretation of perfection among varying cultures as also alluded to by Dennis. A lack of objective, tonal or technique based imperfection leaves seasoned musicians with stage anxiety sourced from a completely separate place –one that holds itself up against unattainable qualifiers, described as such due to the plain fact that no one is a machine.

Moreover, there is something to be said about the elimination and disallowing of any variable in execution because machine-like proficiency is the antithesis of artistic singularity. The inclusion of some humanity –potential for mistakes and all– into ones playing can mean technical pitfalls, or, it can be absent these and simply lead to the inclusion of additional, intangible emotional conveyance, which is as much of an enhancement element as is hitting all the right tones and dynamic markings. It is a wonder performance majors across the country have not already all had severe nervous breakdowns with expectations like these.

Consider this:

Classical music might not use Auto-Tune to excess in the way many contemporary, mainstream musicians do. Still, with the bars for the former group of artists currently set so dramatically high –not to mention functionally impossible– the classical vein is actually mirroring a move toward, and apparent desire for, sonic sterilization in much the same fashion. It just has not realized and or won't admit it (yet). The sterilization of the latter might not be intended to correct unattainable notes but instead would be akin to a removal of every professional's own recognizable tone color, as they steadily and forcibly need to adapt to some committee's nebulous rubric of expectations. Combine those two descriptors together with a pool of people competing for rare orchestral openings and it is difficult to conjure up a list of who wouldn't be full of terror and eventually develop some degree of an inadequacy complex.

17 July 2014

Startup Spotlight Special: Soundwave 2.0!

Soundwave's next evolution is here!
"Soundwave 2.0", Online Image, Cover Photos, 17 July 2014

Try saying that five times fast!

Today I'm featuring and highlighting, the hard work of some exceptionally creative friends from across the pond, in a way that that I'm thinking might just stick around on the site going forward...

Soundwave is a Dublin based music discovery app for iOS and Android, that I have been following for quite some time over at SoundCTRL, where I do much of my tech writing. For those just hearing about this app company for the first time here, my last bit of published commentary on the app was back in March, talking about an update and migration from mobile to desktop access. In short, and as you can read in the hyperlinked article, Soundwave is a music tracker that is all about global, real time discovery –or, as I love to refer to it: the musical jetsetter app.

Commonly known now, as the ‘Instagram of music,’ Soundwave is unleashing its biggest update and feature evolution to date –and when your app's most unique feature already lets users see what people are listening to any place in the world right when they play something, one can imagine growing past that element is no simple aspiration or achievement. Still, Soundwave has surpassed their previous bar with a solid batch of changes that have cemented their reputation as a top notch startup success.

As a discovery engine requiring virtually no manual work on the part of users in order to get their music out to the rest of the global community, (thanks to automatic capture and sync technology that detects song plays from desktop players and native smartphone players, along with many other popular outlets like SoundCloud, Rdio, Spotify and YouTube, to name a few,) the Soundwave development team was able to acutely listen and efficiently react to, the app user base via community suggestion and massive beta testing, when it clamored for faster and deeper social connection. Already equipped with widely popular commenting and tagging capability, the newest layer of social features include these significant upgrades:
    Soundwave's brand new "Group Chats" feature!

    Music messenger/groups: Expanding from single comments and the inevitable “chat chains” that form when you really get into discussing a song with another fan, users can now initiate group chats with one another.

    Instant playlists with friends: Create playlists together with friends by instantly adding songs from Spotify, YouTube, iTunes or anywhere else. Just swipe to view all the songs that have been shared and voilà: an instant playlist.

    Smart recommendations: Finding other people who are playing the same music as you, are in the same area as you and are even “Liking” the same tunes as you, is now even more intuitive and easy with Soundwave's new smart recommendation feature.

    Song search and share: Users can now look for specific songs within the app and then instantly share them either on their own activity feeds or with other users.
    New Soundwave user profile interface!

    In addition to these social upgrades, the other major changes in Soundwave 2.0 include:
    Music on tap: Play a full YouTube video for any track, directly via Soundwave or open it in Deezer, Rdio or Spotify with a single tap. 
    New profile UI: Next to the functional expansion of Soundwave, this is probably one of the biggest changes, that is also the most immediately noticeable. The aesthetic of Soundwave's interface has gotten a nice makeover. The new design is cohesive, bright, visually streamlined (ideal given the scroll-and-swipe-heavy nature of the app's content) and everything simply feels refreshed –ready to take on this new level of user interaction.  
    A permanent feature bar that includes single tap access to one's profile, playlists, the main activity stream and recent social activity, works in tandem with a separate side menu of the other features –including the Music Map. Together, the two parts house all of Soundwave's surfing and socializing tools. In the nature of full honesty, this can feel a little navigationally confusing at times if one has been a pre-existent user because of the drastic facelift. However, just as with any other popular outlet, give it time; maybe take the first few uses slowly and just go through every corner of the app. In no time, everything will be right where you remember it. If anything, new users are liable to adjust more quickly because this structure will be the first thing they experience.

    Soundwave's CTO, Aidan Sliney, explains Soundwave's latest development in context of the company's recent accolades, the longer term and the big picture:

    “Having received the coveted Editor’s Choice Award, Designed for iOS 7 and Best of 2013 award from Apple, along with Top Developer from Google and, most recently, the EY Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year nomination – these awards enhance the sense of pride that we have for the product and it solidifies the progress we have achieved in year one but most importantly, it enhances the confidence we have in the roadmap we have outlined for the future and the new product launch that we will be delivering to our users [today.]”

    It is a rare sight to see a company that can keep moving forward with such a degree and combination of: development speed, staff-to-user intimacy, (something that can fade as a company grows and resources stretch,) tech trend awareness and retention of core product vision. The stage Soundwave is at now, clearly shows them laying down a new marker on the path of socialization that has been carved out by so many before them. Nevertheless, as mentioned before, this is only because Soundwave's grasp on the instantaneously and ubiquitously present nature of music in everyday society is already so airtight, needing only minor alteration from time to time because they have been so ahead of the discovery curve since unearthing their concept on day one.

    The newest version of Soundwave is available now from the iTunes App Store or the Google Play Store and the company can be found/followed on these social media outlets.

    Facebook

    Twitter (@Soundwave)

    Tumblr

    Soundwave's founders are Brendan O'Driscoll, Aidan Sliney and Craig Watson. The app is backed by venture capitalist Mark Cuban and enthusiastically supported by actor, author and philanthropist, Stephen Fry.

    11 July 2014

    Music: The middle ground amidst the arrival of (more) emotional data mining?

    A line from Disney's "Frozen" just felt all too appropriate for this one...
    "Conceal, Don't Feel" Online Image, This is a State of Grace 11 July 2014,
     < http://31.media.tumblr.com/f8ebe02c777bf4b713d69dc915affb5f/
    tumblr_mxltmgSfoy1qlt4fao1_500.jpg >

    The hot topic as of late seems to revolve around further inclusion and analysis of human emotion and that information from such being applied to strategies used by marketers, advertisers and brand designers, among many others in the advert industry. The idea in some circles is that this will become the next “hot commodity” for those sorts of people to garner and then use (read: exploit) I order to better fine tune the delivery of their intended marketing messages of product perceptions.

    Facebook falling into some hot water over their initially non-disclosed emotional manipulation of users via positive and negative messages in feeds revealed at least a modicum of discomfort on the part of the public. However, as with most things that are new and uncommon, will the uproar die down if emotional data indeed becomes something of an expected tradeoff for using services or attaining products? Furthermore, are we really, actually upset over the concept of emotion mining or, is it just about the slowly but ever closing gap on how far away we can keep others from seeing our emotions now lined up against tools driven by hard lined facts?

    An aversion to the latter over the former feels most likely, due to these two things:

    • Lack of ability to keep any semblance of emotional secrecy

    (Pop culture reference! For anyone who is a fan of Grey's Anatomy, here is a nice, literal analogy of someone who puts this idea very bluntly because that is her life, thanks to a medical condition and all without the “aid” of technology to divulge anything: “I can't get mad, I can't, feel happy, I can't feel anything, without the whole world knowing. I can't have a secret. Can you imagine living that way your entire life?”)

    • The fact that emotions are an inherently gray-tinted phenomenon of sentient condition means that placing them in heavily defined, steadfast categories via things like biometric machinery challenges the very nature of emotional fluidity and the potential for organic, authentic change. Emotions manifest in our thoughts, both consciously and subconsciously, in time faster than single instants.

    If we know we are wearing, being watched or listened to by something that will reveal very strictly, how or what we are feeling, invariably our thoughts will at least partially dwell on that reality and that fact will flow over into an effect against our emotions –whether it amplifies them (e.g. anxiety/self-consciousness) or stunts them because of our attempt to avoid point number one listed above.

    There is a willingness to show our emotion –down to very specific and verbalized articulations (e.g. from the old school “any additional comments” section of any survey, to the tech-infused, artistically driven manner of things like the butterfly Wishing Wall currently on display at the Barbican Centre in London for their Digital Revolution Exhibition.) and then, there is a taking away of that choice to disclose. We can choose our feelings but how will we go about making our decisions and how fully will they be revealed if we know they reside in a format discernible to anyone we meet, even if for the first time?


    The butterflies for the Wishing Wall at an in-progress state of development. 

    Just to drive home the point with one more creative analogy, what if we all lived like Pinocchio? Technology widening its function at the rate it is, (here I am deliberately avoiding the word "advancing" because not everyone believes the new is a “step forward.”) the choice to allow some of our thoughts and feelings to be revealed only leaves leeway for a very slippery slope of more to eventually become included because technology is not going to revert; only move forward and aim for more specified material.

    This pair of approaches to accessing emotional feedback is exactly where society is standing right now –a fork in the road if you will. In addition to visual art, music is an entire activity, and construct of thinking, that thrives on emotional disclosure form nearly every aspect of its existence. The songwriter has feelings that inspire and build a song, a band has feeling that shape a song's recording and production and then the consumer has feelings that affect whether they like and pursue an ongoing aural relationship with said band. Once that relationship has been established, on some level, it is as though fans are carrying around a portion of their emotions for all to see, in a very plain, transparent manner, capable of being judged, anytime someone take out their music player or cues up a playlist.

    However, even then, people can still find respite in the fact that no one knows the full, detailed reason we include a specific artist in our publicly viewable music players. The artist or group's emotion that is intended for delivery upon listening (which makes associating with them partially like resigning oneself to a defined category,) otherwise boiling down to a personality element derived from a single genre classification, is certainly one factor that gets attached to listeners as a sensibly perceived reflection of our own emotions, mindsets or ideals. Yet, that does not necessarily HAVE to be the reason or even a reason, so therefore, some secrecy, gray area and option of choice for disclosure remain.

    In this way, regardless of how discombobulated the industry's working for profit, music (and its consumption) are right now, each continue to stand as entities that inherently manage a compromise between deliberate, trackable, emotional revelation and wanting to retain concepts like abstraction and unrestricted or undefined appeal. Music is like the “other, please specify” in the old school survey and the “hipster” in the metaphorical crowd of people that make up consumers and who the music industry's advertisers believe can be intentionally molded and directed to fit a specific inventory or profit margin agenda.

    That said, at least when it comes to music, maybe we have nothing to worry about, even if we should eventually, actually wear, our musical hearts on our sleeves?


    04 July 2014

    Fire up the band and lead us to indie-pendence!

    Are you community or competition: which are you "in?"
    "Indie", Online Image, De'massed 3 July 2014
    &lt; http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Ab73fqfbDOo/UUfl_heSXFI/AAAAAAAAAUs/YNykMRVfAC0/s1600/indie.jpg >


    This piece was inspired by a question posed via tweet, by web designer, Ross Barber (@ElectricKiwi)


    Look momentarily at the calendar. Lo and behold, it is already July and the Independence Day holiday weekend is already upon us. That means it's just the beginning of summer and with the beginning of summer, comes the unfurling of concert dates, tour schedules and festivals galore.
    Nothing summer specific has his my schedule yet but in past week or so, I will say I have seen and heard at least 10 bands I had never known even existed prior to right before they struck the first downbeat on stage. 


    (Credit and a special shout out to Soul Sounds Inc. in Sayville, NY for much of my aforementioned music exposure the past week! Never forget to support independent music retail!)



    What makes this slew of musical showings feel significant enough to write about and comment on, is the fact that these groups were each local, independent bands –some a bit more established than others– but still within a relatable enough bracket for each of them to be putting their songs out there to the public in the same accessible and still highly intimate way bands do when they are aiming for lots of buzz and a solid, loyal group of fans.

    It is this level of connection and type of show that I believe sometimes gets taken for granted, or possibly even overlooked by the public, as far as its rare and often too fleeting window of band-to-band connection is concerned. Yes, fans are important; particularly at the initial stage when a group is still mostly unknown outside of band member circles. However, there is something to be said for the time in a band's development when the opposing goals of “gain enough recognition to play music all the time” and “make friends with other cool bands who are in the same boat as we are,” are able to strongly, but healthily, coexist.



    Think about it:

    When are bands making the biggest, most grassroots, DIY push for artistic growth and listeners?

    When they're unknown/developing

    When are bands most likely to connect, team up and work to enhance one another, whether through an EP or double show or other project, and with little to no fuss of nuts, bolts and territorial logistics?

    When they're unknown/developing.



    That's not to say that artists who have “made it” don't offer a friendly mic if a fellow musician happens to be at their show (see Michael Bublé and Josh Groban's little on-stage chat and sing-off below) or that artists don't pay respect/homage to one another on accomplishments that range from album releases to performances gone viral.




    Still, it is intriguing to contemplate the inevitable degree of transition for a band; going from having widely open arms and a sense of communal effort, to starting to hone one's own assets and seemingly needing to care quite specifically, about things like whose merch table get the spot closest to the venue door. To say nothing of the evolution from a band playing free shows to playing shows that charge for tickets and have venue fees –a change that primarily impacts the fans first– is there even a need for that awkward in-between stage where a band stops being so casual with other acts and becomes fixated on competing for things (fans, favor, resources, etc.) or can the pursuit of joint achievement and steadfastness of community among the industry's neophytes remain intact?

    The “local” piece of the equation is what makes things really interesting in evaluating and answering this question. There are those groups who have enough recognition and funds to do things like professionally record, tour, sell lots of merch but they still play a lot of the same venues, on a fairly regular basis, that were perhaps part of their venue repertoire while on a lower tier of the public's radar. In this way, maybe all it takes to maintain a genuine sense of community amidst fellow indies, even after one's band has grown, is to stay directly plugged in to those places.

    Sure, if a band has exploded in popularity, no one would expect them to go back to playing free shows all of the time but, much the same way students who are passionate about their universities can choose to stay connected as alumni even though they are no long part of that crowd that is finding their place in the world, bands that have “outgrown” their grassroots stage could choose to maintain ties, maybe play the occasionally special, intimate show for the hometown and ultimately, exist as a leader figure to those bands that come after and who then have to take on the challenge of trying to grow and reach that same level of success.

    There may be plenty of talk about not forgetting where one started (Here's looking at you Jenny and Drake!) so as not to take fans for granted but, can we say the same about enough bands not taking their initial scenes and the other people therein for granted as well? The key to keeping community among the indies might just be to think of the everyone existing linearly with one another rather than as one happy family sitting at a round table. Sounds somewhat counter intuitive but when you're working to climb over a wall, it's your friends that are ahead of you that you reach for and that are there to offer a leg up so everyone can reach the top together, right?

    Happy Independence Day to my US readers! 
    Stay safe and enjoy!

    27 June 2014

    Chaos and concert etiquette 3.0: The Freedom Edition

    Or how about you don't do this?
    "Annoying Concert-Girl", Online Image, 27 June 2014
    Proper Concert Etiquette- The “Do’s” and “Don’ts”
    < http://msangelicarossi.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/annoying-concert-girl.png >

    What's the definition of freedom in regards to concert behavior? Is there any semblance of reliable lists of expectation or, short of stopping before total anarchy, is it an evaporated construct entirely?

    When we think of live music, or music in general, often the open ended idea of “limitless expression” comes to mind. No one can tell another person what to like, what not to like, how to express said favor or displeasure. None of it can be judged because something subjective like music lives in a realm heralded by the motto, “to each his/her own.”

    Running to that end, it would then make a lot of sense for attending a showing of different types of live music to lend audience members the same kind of flexibility but as I have addressed abundantly in the past, this is most definitely not the case. Nonetheless, despite the obviously pre-existent life of this subject, recent events both in and outside of firsthand experience have led to another door in the house of etiquette going ajar.

    The thing is, with many of these previous discussions, at least some of the talk was devoted to pointing out that etiquette for various concerts was not something one could expect to learn just once as a flexible and universal set of practices, as a result of ingrained expectations for audience behavior, dependent upon the primary genre being performed at any given time. The central point left over from this reality is that concert etiquette would vary and require more attention. However, so long as one has a grasp on the type of music they are going to hear and watch, they only need to pull out the proper behavior card from the index of their memory banks and everything should be good and Kosher.

    Except, what if the presumed and preconditioned rules and or mannerisms within even a single genre were suddenly questionable or regarded with a new found, possibly lower, ceiling of tolerance? Then how much freedom and expressiveness, for any kind of music, is actually available to fans?

    Perhaps freedom (where concert behavior is concerned) should henceforth be deemed an acronym and its deeper definition explained as such:

    Frequently
    Retracted
    Etiquette
    Editcs
    Do
    Often
    Mislead

    If it sounds like the idea is just some bad conflicting humor, that is partially correct but, also only the surface value. We think, especially with the perpetuated reliance on sub-culture and style based standards, that fans just have to learn and then they can do “whatever they want” to project their joy to the rest of the world. They get to be free within their chosen camps. You want to sort of push the envelope by painting album colors across your face to the next concert, much like fans at sports games? It's extreme and noticeable but go ahead, do your thing. That's freedom to express your excitement at a show right? Everyone is mindful of basic respect and that's that.

    Ah, but there is the rub: mindful of basic respect.


    **************************


    How can any audience have the freedom to express is whatever way they want, to champion they individual love-bordering-on-obsession if in the back of everyone else's minds, is some unspoken but understood bubble of respect and boundary that must not be broken? Respecting openness and respecting limits stand so uncomfortably close to one another they might as well be Siamese twins.

    The world of real examples on makes this duality around etiquette even more evident, thanks to two recent sets of events that pretty much stand right on said line between being free to do whatever and being unwittingly shut down, even if you are (supposedly) within a given set of parameters:


    **************************


    The Independent published a story that can only, just barely, be taken seriously because the entire debacle sounds like something that was custom made for publication in The Onion. Yet, here is the story of 'the scientist thrown out of a classical concert specifically aiming for wider audience accessibility,' because the man was trying to express his excitement about the classic work via some crowd surfing following a prompt from the concerts director for clapping and cheering. The only “negative” rule disclosed before starting the performance, was a “no shushing others” rule, which rather than seeming like a restriction, was more intended as a nod to moving away from the common practice of hushing others as performances of classical repertoire –another product of pre-established genre airs that affect attendance at that type of show. Other than that, the idea is that people would not feel confined in how they processed and reacted to a conservatively presented art form and therefore the show was positioned as its own small act of progression against expected etiquette.

    Still, knowing that the man was forcibly removed by his concert attending peers and that henceforth, there will obviously be a clearly stated no tolerance policy for crowd surfing in particular, means that Dr. Glowacki, the ejected fan/scientist, is at least partially accurate with this statement he gave tot he Independent:

    You’re free to behave as you like, and it’s comforting to think that you have that freedom, but it’s only available to you so long as you behave correctly.


    Sounds like a ship of hypocrisy beyond saving, doesn't it? That was an extreme(ly odd) exception though, was it not? The combination of a progressively thinking performance out of a conservative genre and an a behavior on the extreme outlier...who else is going to throw those two distant cousins together? Nothing else would be that obvious of a contradiction two flexible concert expression.

    Wrong.

    **************************


    I got a front row seat to the concert of “The Girl on My Left.”
    There is no hyperlink to click on this ridiculous sounding sub-headline because it is not in the news. It is a recent occurrence of personal experience from one of the tour stops for Paramore and Fall Out Boy on their freshly launched Monumentour.

    A friend and myself, who were not anywhere near the pit or lower levels of seats, were still in for a fun night of rocking out and applauding, despite being on the upper mezzanine level. Not to mention, considering we had presumed a chance of rain, the overhang above us would have been an added bonus is needed. Anyway, so even while acknowledging that Paramore and Fall Out Boy are both bands that kick up a lot of noise, energy and hyperactive listening habits, would it sound utterly nonsensical if I said I now believe there is a such a thing as being too vested in the music?

    As I said above, much of the time, behavior in the eyes of “concert etiquette right or wrongness” is evaluated within the scope of a particular genre's individual “norms.” Pop/punk/rock is certainly liable to generate and encourage action anywhere along the lines of: standing, arm waving, dancing along, shouting choruses and maybe even mild level headbanging and, for the most part, this will probably be no more outrageous than any of the high flying fervor offered by the bands themselves.

    Hayley Williams is no conservative lead singer... 

    The thing is, although plenty of other people were more intensely dressed and intensely reacting to the songs played, none of those extremities interfered with any other specific person's experience. If your arm waving imitating doing the robot, hey, no one should judge you for that. However, if your arm waving causes you to repeatedly whack the person next to you in the face, you are going to have to tone it down or at least keep your arms within the air space of your individual seat.

    That kind of moderation and free-ranging limitation is what I'm referring to for myself, though it was not about arm swinging but rather, the most common practice of singing along with the band. The girl to my left might as well have been the opening band over Paramore because for a good 75% of their set, my friend and myself were forced to listen not to Williams but instead to this person who insistently and rather obliviously sang along to every word of every song in Paramore's set but sang (read: shouted) so loudly that I had to work to hear anything else over her voice.

    This isn't about judging if the girl to my left sang well or out of tune. Nor is it about saying singing along, even entire songs, is pushing some outrageous boundary. However, much like the arm swinging hypothetical, if you paid the same money as the person next to you, to hear a band sing and perform, would you not consider it a pushing of the etiquette envelope to belt and drown out that very group?


    **************************


    Going back to thoughts following Dr. Glowacki's removal from the Handel's Messiah performance, there was an additional conclusion drawn by the director, Tom Morris, which I feel neatly applies to both these situations and even to the idea of working to further relax concert etiquette stereotypes as a whole:

    ...by allowing an audience to respond in whatever way they want, you also allow an audience to self-regulate, as we discovered.”


    Morris's thought process leads one to question whether ever establishing more or less official rules of live music really matters. Less proclaimed rules or less perceived social norms attached to a type of live music means more freedom but, even if freedom of expression reigns at a venue, much like the self-regulation seen by Morris's audience, albeit on a much, much smaller scale, the sociologically-applied vantage points to base chaos theory would have us see that even absent established structures, people eventually reach the point in a non-linear period of extreme behavior where actions change to reestablish social equilibrium. (Provided the imbalance is not conflict and hierarchy driven.) It is the point of that equilibrium translated into action that is probably most affected by ingrained genre norms, though it would be fascinating to see a group of people previously non-exposed to a type of music, find and established that point of non versus linear limitations.

    20 June 2014

    The Met on the Death of Klinghoffer: Clinging to a half-baked solution for sensitivity?

    A portion of the Metropolitan Opera's Live in HD schedule
    for the 2014-2015 season, prior to the removal of The Death of Klinghoffer.

    In a single afternoon, and with a single announcement, multiple news outlets (New Music Box, the New York Times, The Guardian and the Los Angeles Times) had pieces cranked out that in their own individual ways, reported the definitive change to the Live in HD lineup set for the Metropolitan Opera during next year's 2014-2015 season.

    If you haven't already heard, the change is as such:

    The Death of Klinghoffer, by John Adams, an opera based on a real life event from 1985 when the Achille Lauro was hijacked, was cut from its November 15 slot on the program roster, for fears of stirring up anti-Semitic actions. Since the Live in HD streaming reaches theatres all over the world, including areas that have starkly more issue with this form of prejudice than others, the powers that be at the Met felt particularly wary and chose to play it safe.

    It is all well and good that the Met is not wanting to see anyone get the wrong idea and start up some violent spree because of this opera. However, I say it is good in principle, much the same way one would say it is good that your average law abiding citizen does not abruptly turn around and start beating a puppy with a stick. The cornerstone stance of “We don't want violence” is a clear cut statement but simultaneously about as much of a baffling justification for the Met's decision as can be applied.

    One might take a moment to recall the widely publicized fuss that came about in the time leading up to Eugene Onegin, (which I addressed in a past piece) the opener to the recently ended 2013-2014 season. A newsworthy portion of the global LGBT community expressed discontent (to say the least) over the inclusion of cast and conductor who were deemed as something of 2nd degree disapprovers to LGBT because of their political preferences in Russia and these sentiments were mixed in with the already hot topic of Russia's touchy and disconcerting wording within national LGBT related legislation.

    During that bout of controversy and dismay, General Manager Peter Gelb did not want to fold the hand of his company, reminding the world that the Met is not and cannot be a “vehicle for waging nightly battles against the social injustices of the world.” Now, Klinghoffer's debatable issues are not directly comparable in the exact same social (in)justice framework and that may be where the point I am making appears to fall apart –because Klinghoffer depicts murder via terrorism and that's not justifiable under any means. However, then we would need an examination of the distance between the lines drawn to designate when there is “too much social injustice” and “too much deplorable terrorization.” Then suddenly everyone might just find things just that much more taxing to sort through because the two are not always mutually exclusive. You can have social injustice without murder and you can have murder outside of a socially driven box.


    ***************************


    The individual wishes of Klinghoffer's surviving daughters notwithstanding, it feels as though the decision to remove the opera from the world stage but to keep it running and viewable at the Met's house in person, is like some kind of halfway solution and makes Gelb's insistent sensitivity (which is painted with blatant contradiction thanks to Tom Service's take posted by the Guardian,) feel even more disingenuous than if he had said nothing whatsoever. Knowing that this opera will still be performed and seen by a great number of people during its eight show run at the New York opera house makes its attempt at reducing flame fanning into a laughable paper tiger; the last of whose teeth are falling out –even with a statement by the Klinghoffer daughters included in the program.

    It's like saying, “We still want to put this opera on and make the emotional, artistic statement that Adams has put forth, hopefully inspiring thought and discussion on the nature of the human condition and conflict. Yet, we don't want to put it anywhere near the people or places where the relevance would actually make affective, contemplation-inducing noise because said noise could be the killing type and that's bad. We don't like killing.”

    Of course you don't like killing, Peter Gelb. 

    The obvious aside, keeping the opera going in any capacity, given the stated apprehensions by third parties and Mr. Gelb's expressed desire to cater to those sensitivities, also makes the background fuel sound a lot like this:


    • Since the U.S. is not the nation, and is not even in the region of the world, with the primary socio-religious conflict in question, the Met holds less concern (at least less enough to avoid total cancellation) that the risked anti-Semitic behavior will arise from any New York based opera goers who see Adams's rendition of Leon Klinghoffer's death.

    • Regardless of anything else, the Met is a business and if they cancelled the opera outright, a lot of time, labor, money, etc. would be lost and they do not need anymore preventable losses.



    Last I checked, New York City was not immune to its share of irrational, demeaning and violent outbursts. Some person with latent anti-Semitic tendencies might get taken to the Met, see the opera and then go out and emulate said violence –but hey, this isn't the Middle East, so, the chances of that happening are low enough that the remaining potential audience is clearly within the realm of kind and sane?

    No, the US is not under the same degree of severe duress surrounding anti-Semitism as many people and nations in the Middle East but, there's still plenty to write home about –especially in New York City, as the Anti Defamation League (the same group Gelb was working to come to sensitive compromise with over the HD transmission) recently reported a rise in anti-Semitic attacks and assaults last year; as much as triple in the metropolis.

    I understand that for many conflicts over the course of human history, whether it be surrounding schoolyard bullying over juvenile social ranking, gun control/shootings or anti-gay/women/(insert religion here), it is the minority, the fringe few that take things out of context and cause significant problems, that the powers that be in any given scenario must keep a peripheral eye on when making broadly affective choices that have the potential to end in violence. Nonetheless, it is sad to see an institution that, only so many months ago was not afraid to keep Tchaikovsky's opera, alive on stage and in movie theatres, now making a retractive decision and showing a thought process that remains an ongoing achilles heel of humanity's paradoxical propensity for, and toward, the concept of precaution:


    Decisions around fragile subjects are often steered by the current societal driver that has a greater predilection for confidence in the insane's negative emotional reaction to something and as such, a predilection for trepidation surrounding the sane majority's ability to receive, process and react to the same material in a way instead deemed either neutral or imminently productive and positive.


    In this way, how we weigh one type of outcome over another truly feels more like a case of “two sides of the same coin,” as adversed to a set of lines drawn away from one another and completely lacking interconnection. Not even being able to see the specific financial data for the Met, (which in the general sense we know to be quite precarious at present,) and now returning to include the emotional preference of the Klinghoffers, I don't believe there's much else Gelb could have chosen to do that would not otherwise paint the Met as wholly insensitive.

    It is the delivery of the institution's choice and the outlining of its reasoning that give way to pause and brow-raising confusion. Those who are not looking to pursue violence are the ones left wondering and the dicey nature of this outcome will be a far more long lasting hit to our belief in the potential of art to communicate abstract feelings; especially if Adams' opera, is branded in such the way that Service so eloquently put it,

    "[the Death of Klinghoffer]– however you think of it, one of the most important of the late 20th century – [may be reduced] to yet another controversy...and fails to engage with the substance of the work..."

    For anyone that is interested in some non-third party infused insight, here is the brief video preview/background explanation on The Death of Klinghoffer, as explained by John Adams himself, as well as the opera's director, Tom Morris:


    13 June 2014

    Human vs. Machine: Big Data and the Artificial Recommendation Engine


    This article was originally posted at SoundCTRL.com on June 11, 2014

    I'm sure there's hardly an active internet user today who if asked, would actively elect to use a search return less thorough than that of Google. However, regardless of search engine preference, it's just “type and hit search”—a quick, easy and reliable set of actions to find the content of the average web surfer.
    The more someone searches and surfs, the more the user acquires a stacked history that informs future surfing sessions. This is the case for just about any search query, but when music is specified, is an artificial algorithm's influence over “what we may like” really helpful in terms of putting new music in front of our eyes and under our mouse cursors? Will we genuinely investigate, listen to, like, and possibly become a full-fledged fan?

    Where the general influence and return of search data and music recommendations are concerned, I would say things are more or less enjoyable and helpful depending on where time is spent on the web. Twitter makes recommendations for my accounts, many of whom are artists and bands, which is probably and logically due to my content being music focused. Since overall accounts take priority over the content of tweets, Twitter seems to leave its users a little breathing room to the extent of an algorithm coexisting with a freedom of choice.
    You could argue that this is the same with Facebook: regardless of how many suggested/sponsored posts regularly appear on the newsfeed, users either click and listen, or they don't. However (and this is where algorithms as a general tool can falter and fight among each other) the immediacy of change in what a user sees on Facebook—whether as a post or sidebar ad—makes its recommendation and curation power feel too forced. It feels too inorganic or unnatural to encourage expanding your musical horizons. One wrong click on  a Monday surf session and the platform or website in question will for days tell a user they ought to like this person/brand/album/concert, before that data phases out of rotation.
    Where I see humans having a continuing edge over general history and data-affected curation is a better inclusion of balance, restraint, and spontaneity. Think of it like the stream of a regular conversation. A chat that starts about a visit to the beach ends in a discussion about the disparity between heavy metal's lyrical content and nations' global economic status. If no one explains how things went from one to the other, jumping directly between these topics would lead to abrupt non-sequiturs, incurring confusion or frustration for any onlookers.

    Image via Gallo Images/Thinkstock

    That's where data-based curation seems to still lack some finesse. People still have to engage with a link or a streaming file or an artist page in order to learn more and potentially become a fan. But algorithms and anything with a “you may like this” premise can only make suggestions based on what shows up in a database or list from a platform. This makes the presentation of new music very definitive rather than gradual, unlike the natural change of topics in a normal conversation. Algorithms lack the ability to incorporate segues and the incremental transitions to connect those segues. Right now, artificial curation focuses on providing content that has already been engaged, without knowing why, or without factoring in how often.
    For even more finely tuned curation/ad suggestions for bands or albums, again, the digital can only go so far into accounting for your preference for “X-band” and the artificial placement of “Y-band.” Perhaps the two outfits are listed under the same genre, BPM, or record label, in front of your eyes and ears. If “X” and “Y” turn out to indeed be similar in genre, the recommendation will feel more organic and likely increase the chances of the newly suggested artist's music being engaged. Even then, this method of curation relies on a stepping stone mentality and doesn't account for the spontaneous outliers and blind explorations that humans still like to make and promote, as is evident in rising artist features, blog mixes, or potpourri playlists. (Record of the Day is a great example of this and it is one of my favorite go-to sources for discovering new artists that I end up following and watching develop over time, should their music gain traction.)
    Record of the Day Logo via RecordoftheDay.com

    Perhaps if artificial and programmed curation is eventually able to negotiate between the “six degrees-esque” suggestion system, and remain unaltered by the incorporation of outlier artist explorations, human curation will be given a stiffer run for its money. Presently, history-based curation will continue to offer a pattern of very similar music, or any content where Facebook is concerned. On the other hand, human-powered curation outlets can choose to take a week to highlight an unexpected album or band without grossly throwing off the expectations of its listeners/readers/followers.
    Unless algorithms start surveying users to determine why an individual engaged with a random album of polka favorites on Facebook, Amazon, etc., (and who would even take the time to fill out questions every time they clicked something music related?), in my opinion the bluntness of artificial curation will remain the primary “weakness” of data-sourced curation against human music selection and suggestion.
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    Brooklyn's Northside Festival will feature a panel this week titled "Human v. Machine: Music Curation in the Next Century," including Nue Agency's Jesse Kirshbaum, producer Just BlazeSyd Cohen of Next Big Sound, and Erika Elliott of Summerstage

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