Thursday, May 14, 2009

Listening to you...

I've been busy with finals of late, so I haven't really had the time to engage in a whole lot of serious listening, which means that I try to keep the music solidly in the realm of pop. It annoys me to no end when people talk of Bach or Beethoven as "study music." If you are going to reduce something like the Goldberg Variations or one of Beethoven's sonatas to sonic wallpaper, then you're missing the point. Serious music deserves to be met on its own terms, not while working a bunch of derivative problems for calculus.

Here is what has been on my headphones a lot lately. With the exception of Siegfried, I don't feel too bad if I tune out from time to time with this stuff, but it's a good idea to pay attention, too.

1. Bill Evans - Explorations (Riverside 1961)
While Evans' work at the Village Vanguard is notable, I prefer Explorations as a rule. Tracks like "Nardis" show what a force Evans, La Faro, and Motian were during the all-too-brief time they collaborated.

2. Buddy Holly - For the First Time Anywhere (MCA 1983)
Worth it for "Bo Diddley." Interesting to hear a sort of raw, live-in-the-studio (more or less) sound for Holly. In a lot of the tracks, there's a more propulsive sound that I like. The road between Holly and other artists like Johnny Cash is better illuminated here than elsewhere.

3. Richard Wagner - Siegfried (Naxos' potted Melchior set)
Sometimes it's nice to be able to hear a Heldentenor of the first rank. I think, given the state of both Wagnerian singing and the record industry today, that well-mastered recordings of the greats are more essential than ever. Melchior, I am becoming firmly convinced, was the greatest exponent of Siegfried and a contender for the greatest Siegmund on record (I really like James King's performance for Böhm, though).

4. The Smiths - Hatful of Hollow (Rough Trade 1984)
It's worth tracking down the original RT issue (Rough CD76) instead of the Sire/Reprise issue. For whatever reason, I think that the bass is a better reproduced on the French MPO-made discs from the original issue. The contributions of Morrissey and Johnny Marr need no defense, but heard on the RT CD, Andy Rourke's role becomes clearer and integral.

5. Bob Dylan - New Morning [remaster] (Sony 2009)
This record, most notable for The Big Lebowski's use of "The Man In Me," is one of Dylan's criminally underrated gems. I don't know if it's Al Kooper's organ or Dylan himself, but there is a lighter, exuberant mood to the record that I like.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"That's how people grow up"

Growing up, ancient Egypt was, as I am sure it was to many people, about as wonderful and distant as it got. I kept my interest in ancient cultures and, as it turned out, studied classics (with an emphasis on ancient Rome) in college. I ended up going for a J.D. rather than a Ph.D., but I'd be kidding myself if I said that the culture of the ancient world didn't have a major influence on me.

So, I too respond with disbelief when I heard that the legendary bust of Akhenaten's wife, Nefertiti (who may have been Neferneferuaten and Smenkhkare, but that's another story), has been called a modern fake.

I haven't read Mr. Stierlin's book, which would answer my questions, but I'd like to talk to an expert about what this revelation does to our understanding of New Kingdom art in general, with specific reference to the Amarna period. We've got plenty of art from that time, but that bust of one woman is probably better known than any number of friezes and stelae from that period. It is also the second most recognizable symbol of ancient Egypt, at least in a non-architectural sense (though I'd say, even if you include the Great Pyramid and the Great Sphinx, she'd still come in no lower than fourth). On some level, then, it would be a bit upsetting to see it exposed as a fake -- a European fake, no less.

On the other hand, who cares?

The bust is beautiful. From the slightly enigmatic expression to the proportion and balance of the features, the sculpture has considerable charm. Even the missing eye adds something to it. At some point, the provenance of such a work ceases to matter too much, even if a reevaluation obliterates the meaning the viewer gives the work. Would ancient Egypt have held the same charm for me as a little shaver if I'd known that this work was a fake? Probably. Would I have chosen classics for my undergraduate major? Probably. So what difference does this revelation make? Not much.

Though we probably should reevaluate the sculptor.