What Was That Again?

The Italians have an aphorism — traduttore, traditore. In English, that’s, “Translator, traitor.” I’ve never attempted to translate anything from one language to another; English is the only language I know at all well. But I can well imagine how difficult it must be.

I’ve taken over as coordinator of the monthly used book sale for Friends of the Livermore Library. The chief perk of this job is, I get a sneak preview of the used books. When something catches my eye, I can grab it and put it aside. This month I picked up a matched set of worn but decent-condition hardbacks, published in the 1920s, containing selected works by one author or another. I would never pay $10 for a collection of works by Ibsen or Dumas, but for 50 cents, how could I not?

As a consequence, last night I found myself dipping into Nana, by Emile Zola. I knew almost nothing about Zola, and had certainly never read anything by him, but the opening chapter of Nana got me curious. In the course of my online research, I discovered Read more

Glass Houses

There’s plenty of blame to go around.

The decline of education in America, for one thing, and especially of liberal arts education at the university level, has left young musicians, and especially young composers, short of technical skills. Even before the decline began in the 1970s, the academic music scene was over-invested in serialism and other highly intellectual trends, often to the detriment of anything resembling beauty or human expressiveness.

And then dance music came along, with its incessant four-on-the-floor beat, its hypnotic repetition of simple riffs, its utter disdain for concise or compelling utterance. Even before dance music took off, the vitality of pop music was being undermined by the drum machine, which excelled at repeating simple one-measure patterns. Sampled drum loops were only a few years in the future.

The throw-away consumer culture hasn’t helped. Rather than buy and cherish something valuable, we’ve been trained by the merchant titans of corporate capitalism to buy things that are disposable. Buy it, use it once, and enjoy the fact that it’s brand new. Then, throw it away.

The shift from books to television has Read more