Zumwalt Poems Online

Gustav Mahler’s Sixth Symphony performed by Sir John Barbirolli and the New Philharmonia Orchestra (live recording of August 16, 1967 — Proms performance)

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Gustav Mahler’s sixth symphony was first performed in May 1906 by the composer. Interestingly, Mahler performed the movements in a different order (Allegro, Andante, Scherzo, Finale) than the order in the version published two months earlier. What apparently occurred was that Mahler, during rehearsals, decided that the symphony worked better if the second and third movements were swapped, placing the scherzo in its historically more traditional place after a slow second movement and before the last movement. Mahler notified his publisher to put out a second edition with the new order of Allegro, Andante, Scherzo and Finale and to include errata additions to unsold copies of the first edition.

For the next few decades, Mahler’s sixth was performed with the Scherzo following that Andante slow movement.  Then in the 1950s the first editor of the Critical Edition of Mahler’s works, Erwin Ratz,  came to the conclusion that Mahler had got it right originally and that despite Mahler always conducting the Sixth with the Scherzo after the Andante, that the correct order should be with the Scherzo before the Andante. Without any solid supporting evidence, Ratz, when finalizing the “authoritative” Critical Edition of the Sixth Symphony in 1963, stated in the preface that Mahler had meant to revert to the original order as represented by the first edition, but did not (as Mahler had died in 1911.)

Turns out we now know that Ratz had falsified evidence to support what probably was a personal conclusion based on his analysis of the score.  The Scherzo shares thematic material with the first movement as well as tonal orientation.  Analysis may support a view that Mahler wrote the piece to be performed in the order Ratz proposes, but composers certainly are allowed to make changes, as Mahler not only did to the order, but to the score itself,  and Mahler, known for revising his published works, probably would have made further changes over time if he had lived longer.

In 1998, the latest Critical Edition of the Sixth was released, with the Ratz error still in place, but then in 2004, The Kaplan Foundation published a paper including an essay by recording engineer Jerry Bruck and an essay by Reinhold Kubik, the new chief editor of the Mahler Critical Edition. overturning the Ratz order of Scherzo before Andante and refuting Ratz’s assertion.

Thus with a few exception, all recordings between 1961 and around 2000 or so, have the Scherzo occurring before the Andante.  One notable exception is the live January 1966 Berlin Philharmonic recording conducted by Sir John Barbirolli and the live August 16 1967 and the August 1967 studio recording performed by New Philharmonia Orchestra and also conducted by  Sir John Barbirolli.

Performing a complex work like Mahler’s Sixth demands serious study of the score. It is not a work that easily comes together into a comprehensible whole.  For this work to sound like a single unified piece with an overall logic and message, it requires a major commitment by any conductor.  Barbirolli was indeed very serious in his study of this work.  Perhaps it was through such score analysis that led to Barbirolli’s decision to put the Scherzo after the Andante. Perhaps he realized that the Andante provided the necessary contrast, release of tension, and proper overall flow when coming between the opening movement and the scherzo.

When these recordings where first issued, the two live version had the movements in the order they were performed, but for the August 1967 studio version, EMI reversed the order of the middle movements to place the Scherzo back earlier as was indicated in the erroneous critical edition.  Reportedly, Barbirolli was more disappointed then angry at this, but thankfully, current CDs of this studio version have the Scherzo properly placed as the third movement as performed originally and consistently by both Mahler and Barbirolli.

There are only a few recordings of the sixth undertaken before these three Barbirolli recordings in 1966 and 1967.  Since 1967 there have been several dozen recordings, most of these occurring in the CD era.  For those recordings made in the last forty years of the twentieth century where the Scherzo was performed before the Andante, one might just be tempted to program the CD to play these in the proper order, but this doesn’t quite work so well as each of these conductors crafted an overall performance architecture to work around an earlier placed Scherzo.  In my opinion, switching the order, just makes these performances less logical and cohesive, not more.

Of the two 1967 Barbirolli recordings, both are worth a listen, and the notable differences are as follows:

  1. The 1967 live recording sound is not such a great recording sonically.  The studio recording is much better.  Even the earlier 1966 Berlin live performance is significantly better sounding than the 1967 live recording.
  2. The 1967 live recording is far from a flawless performance with some audible flubs by the orchestra.
  3. The pace of the two recordings are much different. The tempo of the live 1967 recording, like the live 1966 recording, is an appropriate tempo to keep the music moving forward and connect the various ideas.  The tempo of the studio recording is puzzling slow::
    1. First movement: 1967 Studio: 21:20. 1967 Live: 19:08
    2. Second movement: 1967 Studio: 16:03. 1967 Live: 14:00
    3. Third movement: 1967 Studio: 13:59. 1967 Live: 12:08
    4. Fourth movement: 1967 Studio: 32:48. 1967 Live: 29:23
  4. The orchestra sounds more engaged and more focused in the live recording.  Some of this may be due to the faster tempo, but certainly playing live often brings out the best in concert hall performers.
  5. Unfortunately, both these recordings omit the repeat as noted in the score of the first movement, a common practice when recording long works during the LP era.

This 1967 Live recording may suffer slightly in comparison to more recent recordings of Mahler’s Sixth, but historically, one has to love how Sir John Barbirolli not only took on what was then a vastly underappreciated work, but got so much right in performing this work.

Mahler’s “Lied von der Erde” (“Song of the Earth”) performed by Otto Klemperer and Philharmonia Orchestra, New Philharmonia Orchestra, Christa Ludwig mezzo soprano, and Fritz Wunderlich tenor

 

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Recorded in February and Novemeber 1964 at two venues (with the orchestra changing its name from “Philharmonia” to “New Philharmonia” in between) and released in 1967 on a 2 LP set along with five songs from two different Mahler works (two songs from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” and three of five songs from “Rückert-Lieder”) this was the best recording of Gustav Mahler’s “Das Lied Von Der Erde” found in college music libraries in the 1970s, where music majors like me often went to listen to such works as part of their music history studies. This recording captures the music with detail and beauty, presenting a relatively forward plane of sound such that solos are clear and both singers are placed in front and not lost amidst a large orchestra. It is a real joy to listen to on a good audio system with the clarinet, oboe and flute lines distinct and luminously clear  throughout and the two soloists balanced so well against their orchestral accompaniment.

There is no disputing the importance or quality of what many consider to be Mahler’s greatest work.  Composed in 1908, it was written after 1) Mahler had suffered through the politics of hatred and antisemitism that forced him to resign as director of the Vienna Court Opera, after 2) Mahler learned that he had a fatal heart condition, probably a congenital defect that had claimed the lives of his little brother and later his mother, and, 3) worse than either of these for any parent, the loss of his five-year-old daughter, Maria to scarlet fever and diptheria.

marial “With one stroke,” he wrote to his friend Bruno Walter, “I have lost everything I have gained in terms of who I thought I was, and have to learn my first steps again like a newborn”.

“Das Lied Von Der Erde” is a symphony in six parts written on the text of seven poems from Hans Bethge’s first book of translation of Tang Dynasty poetry, “The Chinese Flute.” Mahler begins “Das Lied Von Der Erde” with these dark words attributed to wandering Chinese poet, Li Bai:

“The wine beckons in golden goblets
but drink not yet; first I’ll sing you a song.
The song of sorrow shall ring laughingly in your soul.
When the sorrow comes, blasted lie the gardens of the soul,
wither and perish joy and singing.
Dark is life, dark is death!”

Mahler’s “Song of the Earth” is a work one can listen to repeatedly absorbing the sparkling, transitory joy, the moments of anguish, despair, and bleak, unshakable sorrow, and the spiritual sophistication and beauty of Mahler’s chromatically extended tonality.  Of all the recordings out there, this 1967 classic recording by Klemperer, the Philharmonia Orchestra/New Philharmonia Orchestra, Christa Ludwig, and Fritz Wunderlich is a perfect place to start or return to, depending how many times you have listened to “Das Lied Von Der Erde.”  Otto Klemperer was one of the few conductors who actually knew Gustav Mahler, heard Mahler conduct, and survived into the age of stereo to record him.  Perhaps this is the closest to hearing how Mahler would have recorded this work.

“The more we look, the more to see: altering this reality”  — Zumwalt

In order to interpret, evaluate and ultimately understand, one has to observe.

Concept3

However, there is so much out there to observe.  It’s overwhelming.  So we run into an apparent paradox: one must know, to some degree, what to observe, yet one cannot know without first observing, interpreting, recognizing, filtering, connecting, comparing, evaluating and have some level of realization.

And so one cannot ever start from scratch. There will always be some initial observation from earlier or from others that one relies on in order to determine what next to observe.

Observing then becomes a process of narrowing down and expanding what one observes.  To be efficient this is not a random process, but one driven by the formulation of an objective.

For example, “I need to eat” is an objective.  With that objective one then observes — or collects data — in areas that will be more likely to provide the necessary input to increase one’s success at an action designed to obtain food for eating.

If we are a retail chain,  like Kohl’s, Macy’s or Sears, we must determine our objective.  Is it to increase revenue, lower costs, or increase profit margin.? Or is it a less basic objective like increase in-store traffic or increase brand awareness which may be considered an objective in order to achieve the more specific objective of increased revenue through building customer loyalty?

Having a hypothesis can help narrow down what to observe, but a hypothesis should not be formulated too early in the process or opportunities to achieve an objective can be missed.   Instead it is best to look for patterns in the data, and then determine what is a likely hypothesis based on that data as opposed to starting with an hypothesis and thus missing the opportunity of identifying more likely hypotheses.

For example, if my objective is to cross a river and I start with the hypothesis that one can cross the river on a structure that floats on water, I may miss out on noticing that 200 yards downstream someone has built a bridge, or the river becomes shallow enough to cross on foot, or that the river becomes an underground stream.

So important to keep the objective in mind, identify what data can be collected (what can be observed), and not prematurely limit the data that one will analyze.

With companies like JC Penney and Macy’s currently fighting against declining same- store sales, it seems like they missed out on observing several years ago how Amazon was increasing book sales and ultimately positioning itself to sell other items online — items that were also sold in shopping mall department stores.  What were they observing? What was their hypothesis?

Five year stock chart for JC Penney
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Five year stock chart for Macy’sm5y

At this point, have these companies learned the hard way what data they need to look at?  (If so, now may be a good time to buy their stocks.  If not, expect further losses for JCPenney and further same store sale declines for Macy’s.)

There is a lot out there to observe.  The first step is to clearly understand one’s objective and then focus on observing those things that will help achieve that objective.  For music, if one wants to dance, observe (listen to) the beat  — this means focus on the drums and the bass, If one wants wants to play along, focus on what the chord progressions are for the verse and chorus.  If one wants to ignore the music, focus on something besides the music.

Don’t worry about formulating an hypothesis until we has examined enough relevant data for that intended objective to see what are recurring patterns.  Fortunately in the data analysis world there is software (Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning) that can identify patterns in the data.  Without software, one can take notes, reflect and follow the steps in my diagram below: observe a significant amount of data, recognize what are the patterns that appear relevant to your objective, filter out the irrelevant data to focus on that data that has the patterns of interest, evaluate that data, understand its nature and then form a plan of action to gather or observe more of that data as necessary.

Concept3

Eventually one can form a hypothesis and scrutinize that hypothesis each time one goes through the “comparison”, “evaluate” and “realize” steps to know if that hypothesis is correct or not.  If that hypothesis is not appropriate, then one needs to formulate a better hypothesis that is aligned with previously collected data and will predict future observations.  There is no such thing, though, as a correct hypothesis — there is only a workable hypothesis — one that provides the necessary guidance to act successfully. Where people get in trouble is when they stubbornly or subconsciously hold on to a premise or hypothesis that is not successfully predicting outcomes and then continue to act on that premise or hypothesis as if it was reliable.

No belief is important enough to hold on to when it doesn’t align with verified observations. Such beliefs end up doing everyone more harm than good.

betweenthebuttonsuk

Prior to checking this album out of our local public library sometime around 1969, I had never heard anything by the Stones except what I heard on low-fidelity AM radio.  I was surprised to find how even quality this album.

The album I heard was the American version which starts out with the three tracks that I had previously heard on the radio: “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, “Yesterday’s Papers” and “Ruby Tuesday.”

If  you are looking to pick one of the two best Rolling Stones’ songs ever, “Ruby Tuesday” seems a must, with its dreamy, reflective, beautifully A minor melodic verse and the upbeat, celebratory verse (in the relative major key) — and “Let’s Spend the Night Together” deserves serious consideration.  If this album contained nothing more, it would be worthwhile to have in one’s collection.

After these first three songs on side one, we get “Connection”, a solid, steady-beat rock song, “She Smiled Sweetly”,  a sensitive ballad, and “Cool, Calm & Collected” with its ragtime-like piano-dominated verse (representing the successful, material-based elements of life) and it’s Indian-influenced chorus (representing the spiritual sentiment of “cool, calm, collected” that tag-team throughout the tune to its accelerating frenzy climax.

Side two may not be as strong as side one, and doesn’t hold up as well to repeated listenings, but is still generally good with “Who’s Been Sleeping Here” and “Something Happened to Me Yesterday” with its English Musical Hall quality and steady march beat. Please note Nicki Hopkins incredibly important contributions on piano to both “Cool Calm Collected” and “Something Happened to Me Yesterday.”

AMERICAN ALBUM TRACK LISTING [from Wikipedia]

Side one
No. Title Length
1. Let’s Spend the Night Together 3:38
2. Yesterday’s Papers 2:01
3. Ruby Tuesday 3:16
4. Connection 2:08
5. “She Smiled Sweetly” 2:44
6. “Cool, Calm & Collected” 4:17
Side two
No. Title Length
7. “All Sold Out” 2:17
8. “My Obsession” 3:20
9. “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” 3:55
10. “Complicated” 3:15
11. “Miss Amanda Jones” 2:48
12. Something Happened to Me Yesterday 4:5

Personnel [from Wikipedia]

As per the American release:

The Rolling Stones
  • Bill Wyman – bass guitar (2, 3, 6-12), double bass (3)
Additional musicians

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“You must challenge your preconceptions or they will challenge you” — Penny A.Proctor (You may hear this first quote in the upcoming new Star Trek series on CBS taken from a short story by Penny A. Proctor)

“Mistakenly thinking you know usually results in not knowing mistaken thinking later on.” — Zumwalt

IQ tests sometimes contain questions that, though not particularly hard, will not be answered correctly if one falls back on preconceptions rather than solving the problem on its own terms: doing the work rather than taking a short cut by falling back on what one accepts as given truths

A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

If one starts with preconceptions, one goes for the easy answer.  If one just works through this without jumping at the misleading “short cut” then one gets the correct answer.

If one even checks their preconceived wrong answer, then they will soon have the right answer.  The wrong answer of 10 cents for the ball doesn’t stand up as 10 cents for the ball, plus one dollar extra than the price of the ball for the bat at $1.10 sums up to $1.20.

One way to solve the problem is rely on simple algebra:

x (price of ball); y (price of bat)

x + 1.00 = y  –> y-x = 1.00

x + y = 1.10 –> y+x = 1.10

Add these 2 equations up and we get 2y – 2.10  or y = 1.05 so the bat is $1.05 and the ball is .05.

Even if we don’t use algebra but try a few guesses, checking our guesses will eventually get us to the right number.

But the way that life works for most of us, most of the time, is that we make assumptions and never ever check them, making decisions on top of bad assumptions.

Bill is stalking Mary. Mary is stalking John. Bill is married, but John is not. Is a married person stalking an unmarried person?

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Cannot be determined from the given information

Once again, if we fall into the trap of lazy thinking, we may never work through this problem finding the right answer and end up agreeing with 80% of people that choose answer #3. It really doesn’t matter that we don’t know Mary’s marital status.  If she is single, it is then Bill, the married person, that is looking at an unmarried person, and if she is married, then Mary is the married person looking at an unmarried person.

We rarely object to an instance of a person saying “that’s my spouse” (“that’s my wife”, “that’s my husband”) or “that’s my child.”  And so, it’s no issue to say “that’s my dog” or “that’s my cat.”  But we would object to saying “I am the owner of this husband” or “I am the owner of this child.”  Should we also object to one saying “I am this dog’s owner.” Does one own the dog or is it a partnership? If the dog runs away, the “owner” can get the pet back.  The “owner” can decide to trade the dog for money or put the dog to sleep. In ancient Greece and in 19th century America, people owned other people, and could trade them and even put them to death.  The people in the past re-examined ownership of people and determined this was unacceptable in any way, shape or form.  Should we examine our relationships with our pets, or just accept our preconceptions and continue on.

Anchoring is a sales and marketing ploy that takes advantage of our tendency to have preconceptions.  This is very common in the cruise industry where cruise lines offer “limited” 2-for-1 permanent cruise sales or have a brochure starting price that’s double (or more) than the actually offered price:cruise3

Preconceptions are the most troublesome when we don’t know about them. In doing data analysis it’s the bad data that we don’t know about the messes up the results.  Any belief that one doesn’t examine for its accuracy (maybe not examined as one isn’t aware of the belief or thinks it is correct) will influence one’s final decisions and analyses, often making actions based on such decisions and analysis worse than random actions. Anchor prices are used to take advantage of our tendency to lock on to the earliest data we have about something and to subconsciously put more weight or more credence in the earlier or earliest obtained data than later data, even though analytically we often chose to prefer more recent data over older data.

Take the time to examine what data is used to make an important decision and challenge the validity of that data.  By identifying the bad data or erroneous preconceptions and not using them to base a decision on,  one can significantly increase their likelihood of acting appropriately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

wave

Jazz fan’s will likely know of Antonio Carlos Jobim two albums with Stan Getz, particularly the first one, Getz/Gilberto containing “Desafinado” and the classic version of “The Girl from Ipanema” with  Astrud Gilberto‘s seductive vocals.    That first album, added fuel to the already burning fiery desire of Americans to hear and dance to bossa nova, and elevated Jobim to a marketable American music business commodity.

“Wave”, released in 1967, became Jobim’s best selling album, providing smooth, comforting music for middle America and many non-jazz record consumers. The music is well-crafted, well-arranged and well-performed with Jobim playing guitar, piano, celeste and harpsichord, Ron Carter on bass, Urbie Green on trombone, and a small string orchestra with french horn and flute/picolo all providing the most mellow dance music possible.   It is not exactly jazz and, in a sense, sets the tone for a genre of music that would be called smooth jazz,  a style not demanding listener attention or involvement, but played for its soothing, relaxing qualities.  Such smooth or background music became prevalent in shopping centers, in restaurants and in many work places that now added such music or substituted smooth jazz for the previously provided muzak. In 1987, Los Angeles radio stations KMET, once one of the coolest, most progressive album-oriented,  FM radio stations in Southern California, changed its letters to KTWV and called itself “The Wave” playing “adult contemporary jazz” becoming one of the un-coolest, most un-progressive stations in the Greater Los Angeles area ultimately influencing other radio stations to take the same path.

Of course, none of the blame should be attributed to this fine Jobim album; it is just worth noting that soon background music became virulently prevalent, irking many musicians that believed music should be actively listened to and not absorbed.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All tracks composed by Antônio Carlos Jobim.

  1. Wave” – 2:56
  2. “The Red Blouse” – 5:09
  3. “Look to the Sky” – 2:20
  4. “Batidinha” – 3:17
  5. Triste” – 2:09
  6. “Mojave” – 2:27
  7. “Diálogo” – 2:55
  8. “Lamento” (lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes) – 2:46
  9. “Antigua” – 3:10
  10. “Captain Bacardi” – 4:29

 

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Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention did not produce either easy listening music or anything that could be considered conservative.   This is the Mothers of Invention’s second studio album and every bit as adventurous as the first including mixed meter and quotes from Stravinsky’s three most famous ballets, “The Firebird”, “Rite of Spring” (“Le Sacre du printemps”) and Petrushka.  Each side of the original LP can be viewed as a single piece rather than a set of unrelated tracks due to redeployment and relationship of music material.  Humor is a inseparable part of this innovative album that many Zappa fan’s cite as one of their favorites.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Frank Zappa.

Side one: “Absolutely Free” (#1 in a Series of Underground Oratorios)
No. Title Length
1. Plastic People 3:40
2. “The Duke of Prunes” 2:12
3. “Amnesia Vivace” 1:01
4. “The Duke Regains His Chops” 1:45
5. “Call Any Vegetable” 2:19
6. “Invocation & Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin” 6:57
7. “Soft-Sell Conclusion” 1:40
Side two: “The M.O.I. American Pageant” (#2 in a Series of Underground Oratorios)
No. Title Length
1. “America Drinks” 1:52
2. “Status Back Baby” 2:52
3. “Uncle Bernie’s Farm” 2:09
4. “Son of Suzy Creamcheese” 1:33
5. Brown Shoes Don’t Make It 7:26
6. America Drinks & Goes Home 2:43

Personnel[from Wikipedia]

Note that there are several additional musicians on this album including Don Ellis on trumpet on “Brown Shoes Don’t make it”

 

safeasmilk-bds1001-covers

Another less-than-easy-listening album is Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band’s “Safe as Milk” which starts from a blues foundation but includes uncommon time signatures and unique instrumental divergences. On one hand, a traditional blues fan might prefer to spend their time listening to a true blues album by someone like Howlin’ Wolf rather than this Don Van Vliet (A.K.A Captain Beefheart) psuedo-blues album. However, despite some superficial similarities in Howlin’ Wolf’s and Beefheart’s voices, and “Safe as Milk’s fairly straightforward first track, there are enough deviations here, musically and lyrically, from other more solid blues albums of the time to take this album on its own terms. Guitarist Ry Cooder, having played with Taj Mahal in the short-lived Rising Sons, makes important arrangement and performance contributions. Historically, this is an important album as it captures a band in transition to a more adventurous style that merges blues, free jazz and art-rock into a genre I could only call head-spinning, head-splitting, free-style post-blues

So even though this is much closer to standard fare than later Captain Beefheart albums, it contains a number of adjustments to standard rock/blues that make this an album worth checking out.  “Yellow Brick Road” borrows the first part of its melody from “Pop Goes the Weasel” but strays off into its own tune with a mix of innocent and suggestive lyrics. “Autumn Child” pushes into both art-rock and progressive rock territory with its Zappa-like opening and changes in meter, texture, tempo and mood.  Electricity” is the stand-out track, with lyrics and music flirting with psychedelia (note the guitar imitating the sitar), blues, bluegrass, and rock, and, once past the brilliant introduction, is very danceable. The rising oscillations of a thermin closes out the song.

 

Whereas one can put on “Waves” (and even “Absolutely Free” under the right circumstances) and delegate it to the background with little trouble, if one does this with some of the Beefheart “Safe as Milk” tracks like “Electricity”, “Plastic Factory” and “Abba Zaba”, they simply become distracting and annoying; however, play this album on a good audio system that can untangle the aggressive texture into individual and distinctive voices and the music flies by and, if not always pleasant, is unexpectedly absorbing and engaging.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All songs written by Herb Bermann and Don Van Vliet except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Sure ‘Nuff ‘n Yes I Do” 2:15
2. “Zig Zag Wanderer” 2:40
3. “Call on Me” (Van Vliet) 2:37
4. “Dropout Boogie” 2:32
5. “I’m Glad” (Van Vliet) 3:31
6. Electricity 3:07
Side two
No. Title Length
7. “Yellow Brick Road” 2:28
8. “Abba Zaba” (Van Vliet) 2:44
9. “Plastic Factory” (Van Vliet, Bermann, Jerry Handley) 3:08
10. “Where There’s Woman” 2:09
11. “Grown So Ugly” (Robert Pete Williams) 2:27
12. “Autumn’s Child” 4:02


Personnel 
[fromWikipedia]

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band
  • Don Van Vliet – lead vocals, harmonica, marimba, arrangements
  • Alex St. Clair Snouffer – guitar, backing vocals, bass, percussion
  • Ry Cooder – guitar, bass, slide guitar, percussion, arrangements
  • Jerry Handley – bass (except 8, 10), backing vocals
  • John French – drums, backing vocals, percussion
Additional musicians

“Knowingly, and unknowingly, I relentlessly measure everything you do,
And that’s okay, as long as I don’t then pretend that I have ever measured you.”
— Zumwalt

“Accuracy of observation is the equivalent of accuracy of thinking.” — Wallace Stevens

We can observe what one does or what they have.

We cannot observe who they are.  We are basically limited to observing what they do and have. And usually, we only see a very small percentage of that.

But even if we saw everything, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, we would be left with only seeing manifestations and phenomena, not the essence of who people truly are.  We may know it’s safe or dangerous to be around this or that person in this or that circumstance, but we have no direct understanding of those people, we make the leap from observing what they do to who they are.

So its pointless to compare ourselves to others.  We can compare what we do to what someone else does.  Or we can compare what someone has to what we have.  Just don’t fool yourself that you can compare yourself to anyone else.

The truth is that you cannot measure anyone.  You can measure their body. You can measure the size or weight of their brain, their heart, their stomach.  With the right equipment, you could even count the number of neurons in their brain, the number of synaptic connections, and, if using top-of-the-line (though still futuristic) equipment, the number of neurotransmitters and their motion and chemical composition.

To say the heart, the stomach or the brain is the person is a large leap of illogic and foolishness.  To say the body (containing the heart, stomach, brain and several gallons of water) is the person is also not true.  Maybe removing an appendix, a few skin cells, a couple of liters of water, or consuming a bit too much at a cruise ship buffet changes the viewpoint or experience of the person , but so can reading a book or watching a movie or interacting with someone else — and we don’t confuse the books on your bookshelf or your friends and family with you.  Or do we?  Yes, we often do! Since we cannot observe you, we observe things around you and use these are proxies for measuring you.

Be careful that what you observe is relevant to what you evaluate.  Do not observe the behavior of ducks in the park and assume that you have collected pertinent data to evaluate the behavior of wolves in the wild.  Do not observe the behavior of a person, and assume that you can evaluate the person: you can only evaluate their behavior.

Data seduces us.  We see data and we sometimes don’t stop to see if this data is relevant, complete or appropriate for our analysis.  Our process of drawing conclusions may be sound, but if we are not observing what we need to observe, then we cannot expect valid comparisons or evaluations and this in turn will impact our understanding and any subsequent action.

Concept3

 

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I am having second thoughts about posting these album reviews of music of 1967 — fifty years ago.

One: it’s not easy to write reviews about music: to describe music in words is an impossible activity, and at best one ends up describing their reactions to the music, which, really, is self-centered, possibly narcissistic, and either self-indulgent or masochistic (writing music reviews can be very painful as one recognizes that keystrokes being captured by WordPress fall immeasurably short of the sound waves that are captured by audio recording devices.)

Two: shouldn’t I be writing about recent album releases? To write reviews about albums already accepted as established classics doesn’t help generate income for the musicians (if they are still alive), encourage them to create more music, or provide the service of bringing  previously ignored music or musicians to people’s attention.

Three: there are others out there writing music reviews that get less visitors than this blog, and yet their reviews are better, more interesting and more informative. When I have visited such blogs, I am shocked to see posts that range from being hours old to months old without a single like or comment.  What keeps them going?

And so I take the time to ask myself, am I providing anything of value to my reader or, if not to my reader, is there anything that I get out of this?  And I really don’t know at this point if any single one of my reviews has caused someone to listen to music they would otherwise have missed out on.  But I do know, once I take the time to reflect on it, that I do get something out all of this: knowing that I need to write something, I am listening to this music differently than I normally would. I am not only listening intently, but with the need to find something I can communicate out to someone else.

During much of my regular music listening, I listen seriously, and I direct my attention directly on the music. I am seated.  I am not dancing, driving, cooking, or watching sports with the sound turned down.  I am a human receiver, trying to absorb and enjoy as much of the music as possible. When I listen to music I am planning to write about, I am no longer in receiver mode, but in explorer mode.  I am looking for places to pitch a tent, clues for sources of water, tracks of game in the vicinity, evidence of past occupants or current inhabitants.  I am reaching out, straining my eyes to see the distance, taking notes mentally; I normally don’t do any of these things when I am listening for enjoyment.

And so knowing that I must write about what I am listening to changes the listening experience.  If it is a digital source, I might even pause, rewind and replay. I find myself looking for strengths and weaknesses in the music instead of taking it on it’s own terms. It’s like the difference between dating someone for the enjoyment of their company and dating to determine an appropriate life partner.

And there is the selection of material.  When I listen for enjoyment, I pick something I am in the mood for, or something I just bought, or something that will provide a unique experience.  When I am writing a post about one of the best albums of 1967, the selection process is limited to that year, and I have to find something that is pretty good and that others will enjoy.  When listening, I ask myself, is this album good enough to mention as a “Fifty Year Friday” album, and if the answer is no, the album has served it’s purpose as a candidate and either I tolerantly listen to the end, or I stop and put on something else.

And to select an album, I review all potential choices: albums in my collection I have heard dozens of times, both as an dedicated listener and as background to other activities, as well as albums that I purchased, and never played — or played the first track — or continued past the first track but made secondary while reading liner notes, reading a book, or doing something else.

And so we come to this Velvet Underground album. I know this is a good group: a very important group in its place in the history of music.  And I was a fan of Lou Reed’s “Transformer” album, at least marginally, having heard it a few times in 1973 and 1974. And so, back in the early 1990’s, when I would buy a few dozen CDs every month, mostly jazz and classical, I saw this in the local mega-bookstore bin,  and not having a single Velvet Undergound CD, and knowing this was supposedly a good one, I immediately bought  it with a few dozen other CDs.  When I got home, this CD had to compete with a previously purchased 18 CD set of Nat King Cole, a Chet Baker CD, the complete Bill Holiday on Verve, a 6 CD T-Bone Walker set, a Captain Beefheart CD and several new classical CDs. Neither the Velvet Underground nor the Captain Beefheart won  me over after the first couple of tracks, so I set them aside, meaning to listen to them soon, but never doing so.

But now, in 2017, looking for worthwhile albums from 1967, I select this previously neglected CD, and listen to it with full attention. And to my surprise, it is a musical treasure.

If Sgt. Pepper’s is the first example of progressive rock, “The Velvet Underground & Nico” is the first example of Art-Rock, at least that I know of.  I am not always a fan of so-called Art Rock — it can get on my nerves, but like the genre, free-jazz, when it is done right, it is great — when it is just an excuse for lack of structure, vision, content, it is like so much of the so-called classical “Avant-Garde” (neither classical or particularly innovative) of the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s — a waste of valuable listening time.

This album, though, has direction, intensity, texture, form, structure.  There is a sense that there is a canvas with dimensions in space and time that is being systematically addressed with points, dabs, strokes, shades, groupings and contrasts.

“Sunday Morning” is the last song recorded for the album, but it makes sense for it to open the album as it is most accessible and apparently disarmingly innocent of all the songs.  The celesta provides a music-box like introduction, to a peaceful, tranquil tune with lyrics that belie the musical serenity:

“Sunday morning
And I’m falling
I’ve got a feeling
I don’t want to know”

This is a song that could have gotten substantial airplay.  Perhaps it didn’t due to the contrast between the pleasantly serene melody and the disheartening lyrics. Perhaps it didn’t because of Lou Reed’s distinct half-spoken and sometimes imperfect intonation. Or perhaps there were commercial reasons or lack of the necessary behind-the-scenes connections.

The musically bucolic first track is contrasted with a rough, repetitive, blues based “Waiting for the Man.” The lyrics are again bleak, portraying a New York City heroin addict, looking to score from his dealer.

Since music is generally my main focus, let’s get the lyrics out of way.  Lou Reed’s writing is direct, brutally honest, and of its time.  These are not the clever, playful, roundabout lyrics we find in most of the more socially-relevant music of the time. This is a much more accurate, even painful, representation of reality.  Lou Reed connects with life’s realities  rather than just observes or comments on life:

“I’m waiting for my man
Twenty-six dollars in my hand
Up to Lexington, one, two, five
Feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive
I’m waiting for my man

“Hey, white boy, what you doin’ uptown?
Hey, white boy, you chasin’ our women around?
Oh pardon me sir, it’s the furthest from my mind
I’m just lookin’ for a dear, dear friend of mine
I’m waiting for my man”

The music here is frantic, with hints of barrelhouse piano transformed into a pounding commentary on withdrawal and drug dependency.  This is not pleasant music.   This is musical drama.

Lou Reed is sometimes flat, and occasionally here or there sharp, but, thankfully, he wavers more like a gymnast maintaining equilibrium on the balance beam, his pitch violations compensated by his confident and appropriate delivery of the text which unfailingly communicates the intrinsic meaning and essence inherent in the words. Not the case with Nico.  At the insistence of Andy Warhol, Nico was added to the band to perform lead vocals on a few of the tracks as well as some backing vocals.  On the third track of the album, the wistful ballad, “Femme Fatale”, the combination of being out of tune and lack of consistent expression erode her voice’s timbral strengths inviting one to consider how much better the album would have been with Lou Reed replacing her lead vocal assignments.

It is with “Venus in Furs” that this album takes off into another musical sphere.  Not only is the focus on the substance, with a given mood and direction deftly and often roughly crafted for each track, but we get a range of music styles — some of that immediate time period and some hinting at the near future.

One can identify the influences in this album: Bob Dylan, blues, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, free jazz (Lou was a fan of Cecil Taylor), classical avant garde, modernism and experimental music (Cale studied with Humphrey Searle, and after coming to the U.S, had ties to Iannis Xenakis, John Cage and La Monte Young), British Invasion, British Skiffle, Indian and eastern music (note the drone and guitar in “Venus in Furs”), and possibly the New York Hypnotic School.  More to the point are the many hints and foreshadowings of future styles of music including minimalism, psychedelic, glam rock, art rock, progressive rock, punk, goth, and grunge.  I will take bets on Velvet Underground having influenced Peter Hamill, David Bowie, PJ Harvey and groups like the Residents (at least a little), Explosions in the Sky, Sex Pistols, Joy Division, U2, Sonic Youth, Talking Heads, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, R.E.M. and countless others.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Lou Reed except where noted.

Side A
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. Sunday Morning Lou Reed, John Cale 2:54
2. I’m Waiting for the Man 4:39
3. Femme Fatale 2:38
4. Venus in Furs 5:12
5. Run Run Run 4:22
6. All Tomorrow’s Parties 6:00
Side B
No. Title Writer(s) Length
7. Heroin 7:12
8. There She Goes Again 2:41
9. I’ll Be Your Mirror 2:14
10. The Black Angel’s Death Song Lou Reed, John Cale 3:11
11. European Son Reed, Cale, Sterling MorrisonMaureen Tucker 7:46

Personnel

On the original album:

Production

  • Andy Warhol – producer
  • Tom Wilson – post-production supervisor, “Sunday Morning” producer
  • Ami Hadami (credited as Omi Haden) – T.T.G. Studios engineer
  • Gary Kellgren – Scepter Studios engineer (uncredited)
  • Norman Dolph – Scepter Studios engineer (uncredited)
  • John Licata – Scepter Studios engineer (uncredited)
  • Gene Radice – post-production editor, remixer
  • David Greene – post-production editor, remixer

For those that want to hear additional Lou Reed compositions from this time period, they can listen to “Chelsea Girl”, Nico’s solo album recorded in 1966 after “Velvet Underground & Nico”, and released in October 1967. The name of the album is a reference to Andy Warhol‘s 1966 film Chelsea Girls, in which Nico starred and includes a Lou Read composition of that same name. Besides Lou Reed, John Cale and Sterling Morrison making contributions, we also get two Jackson Browne compositions and his guitar on five of the tracks. Jackson Browne was providing back up for Nico’s small venue performances in 1966, and romantically involved with her until 1968.

Nico’s vocals are slightly better than on the Velvet Underground album, but there are still serious problems with pitch and in providing appropriate emotional delivery of the lyrics.  The string arrangements, instrumental backing, and strength of the compositions help alleviate some of Nico’s performance shortcomings.

 

 

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

Side A

  1. “The Fairest of the Seasons” (Jackson Browne, Gregory Copeland) – 4:06
  2. These Days” (Jackson Browne) – 3:30
  3. “Little Sister” (John CaleLou Reed) – 4:22
  4. “Winter Song” (John Cale) – 3:17
  5. “It Was a Pleasure Then” (Lou Reed, John Cale, Christa Päffgen) – 8:02

Side B

  1. Chelsea Girls” (Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison) – 7:22
  2. I’ll Keep It With Mine” (Bob Dylan) – 3:17 Note: this song was recorded by Dylan in 1965 but remained unreleased on any of his own albums until the 1985 Biograph set.
  3. “Somewhere There’s a Feather” (Jackson Browne) – 2:16
  4. “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” (Lou Reed) – 5:07
  5. “Eulogy to Lenny Bruce” (Tim Hardin) – 3:45

Personnel

Technical
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