An artist without greed or ego

You’ve got to love Elvis Costello, who is telling his fans NOT to buy his latest box set because it’s too expensive, but to instead buy that of Louis Armstrong, whose music is “vastly superior.”

Just in time for the holidays, Elvis Costello has a new $225 box set for sale — and he’s telling fans NOT to buy it.

The singer says $225 is just too much to pay for “Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook,” even if it does come with three CDs, a vinyl record, a concert DVD and a 40-page coffee table book. The music and DVD were recorded earlier this year at a two-night stand in Los Angeles, where Costello spun his game-show-like wheel to select songs that he and his band would play.

“Unfortunately, we at www.elviscostello.com find ourselves unable to recommend this lovely item to you as the price appears to be either a misprint or a satire,” Costello wrote on his website.

Costello tried to get the record company to knock the price down, but was unsuccessful. So he is recommending buying the work of another legendary artist.

“If you should really want to buy something special for your loved one at this time of seasonal giving, we can whole-heartedly recommend, ‘Ambassador of Jazz’ — a cute little imitation suitcase, covered in travel stickers and embossed with the name ‘Satchmo’ but more importantly containing TEN re-mastered albums by one of the most beautiful and loving revolutionaries who ever lived – Louis Armstrong,” Costello wrote. “The box should be available for under one hundred and fifty American dollars and includes a number of other tricks and treats. Frankly, the music is vastly superior.”

via Elvis Costello: Don’t Buy My $225 Box Set | NBC New York.

The most relaxing–and most boring–music ever

Scientists measuring brain waves have discovered the most relaxing piece of music ever, an artificially composed tune called “Weightless.”  It’s so relaxing that they are warning people not to drive while listening to it.  To say it’s relaxing is  another way of saying that it’s the most boring tune ever.  You can listen to it, below, if you dare.

British band and a group of scientists have made the most relaxing tune in the history of man, an Mp3 of which is at the bottom of this article.

Sound therapists and Manchester band Marconi Union compiled the song. Scientists played it to 40 women and found it to be more effective at helping them relax than songs by Enya, Mozart and Coldplay.

“Weightless” works by using specific rhythms, tones, frequencies and intervals to relax the listener. A continuous rhythm of 60 BPM causes the brainwaves and heart rate to synchronise with the rhythm: a process known as ‘entrainment’. Low underlying bass tones relax the listener and a low whooshing sound with a trance-like quality takes the listener into an even deeper state of calm.

Dr David Lewis, one of the UK’s leading stress specialists said: “‘Weightless’ induced the greatest relaxation – higher than any of the other music tested. Brain imaging studies have shown that music works at a very deep level within the brain, stimulating not only those regions responsible for processing sound but also ones associated with emotions.”

The study – commissioned by bubble bath and shower gel firm Radox Spa – found the song was even more relaxing than a massage, walk or cup of tea. So relaxing is the tune, apparently, that people are being Rex advised against listening to it while driving.

via Scientists discover most relaxing tune ever – Music – ShortList Magazine.

First of all, music or any art form is not supposed to be relaxing!  On the contrary, it’s supposed to seize and focus your attention!  It is not a good thing when music puts you to sleep.  I defy you to listen to “Weightless”–an appropriate name, since the music indeed is weightless–all the way through (beware:  it’s 8 minutes, which is part of what makes it so tedious, I mean, relaxing):

Marconi Union – Weightless

HT:  Joe Carter

Rembrandt & the Face of Jesus

Bob Duggan on a Rembrandt exhibit in Philadelphia that I’d really like to see, having always been astounded and edified by the artist’s portrayals of Jesus:

For millennia now, believers and nonbelievers have wondered what Jesus may have looked like and grasped at any and all evidence in their search. In the exhibition Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus, currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through October 11th, a turning point in that search created by the artistic innovations of Rembrandt helps us see where that search has been and, perhaps, where that search will go. In learning how Rembrandt changed the face of Jesus from divine, inhuman perfection to human accessibility we can learn what the “true” face of Jesus might truly be.

From the earliest days of Christianity up until Rembrandt’s 17th century, the idea of portraying Jesus as human reeked of blasphemy. Iconoclasts often violently repressed any attempts to portray Christ as anything less than fully, perfectly divine. Historically “accurate” representations of Jesus, such as the Veil of Veronica, the Mandylion, the Shroud of Turin, and the Lentulus Letter, set the standard rules followed when depicting Jesus during the Byzantine era and beyond. Just a century before Rembrandt’s birth, Dutch Protestants swept the churches clean of unacceptable portrayals of their savior. Into that environment stepped the revolutionary and rebellious Rembrandt.

“Not only did Rembrandt abandon these traditional sources,” writes Lloyd DeWitt, curator of the Philadelphia leg of the exhibition’s tour and editor of the show’s scholarly and captivating catalog, “but as many scholars have persuasively proposed, and visual and circumstantial evidence consistently supports, he used as his model a young Sephardic Jew from the neighborhood in which he lived and worked.” At the centerpiece of Rembrandt’s revolution stood seven portrait heads (and perhaps a now-lost eighth) of Jesus Christ from various angles and shown in various states of mind and mood. This exhibition reunites these portrait heads (including the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s own, shown above) for the first time since they once stood in Rembrandt’s studio for his use and the use of his students more than 350 years ago.

Whenever Rembrandt needed to depict Jesus, he called upon these tools for guidance and inspiration. This exhibition also collects those works by Rembrandt in which he depicted Jesus both before and after his experimental portraits done from life in what may be the largest single presentation of these works ever. “Rembrandt’s concept of Christ changed significantly as his art evolved from one decade to the next,” argues George S. Keyes in his catalog essay, with “Rembrandt’s earlier representations of Jesus [showing him] in dramatically charged events” and later depictions making “Christ… an object of profound meditation.” This evolution can clearly be seen in Rembrandt’s almost endless returning to his favorite story of Jesus on the Road to Emmaus and the Supper at Emmaus. From small drawings focusing on the explosively radiant divinity of Christ at the moment of revelation at Emmaus to paintings such as the Louvre’s 1648 Supper at Emmaus focusing more on the reactions of the disciples than on the more-reserved, resurrected Jesus (whose appearance seems based on the “Philadelphia” head), Rembrandt shifted away from Jesus as the heroic superbeing of antiquity towards a more human, more accessible to believers, and, perhaps, truer face of Christ. Just as the Louvre’s restored Supper at Emmaus (in the United States for the first time since the 1930s) glows with new life after losing layers of yellowing varnish, Rembrandt’s new and improved Christ glows with a new relevance that restores him to the faithful, including Rembrandt himself. . . .

Adrift on a sea of debt and rudderless after the death of his wife, Rembrandt anchored himself in art and faith, then passed on those values to the members of his studio through these heads of Christ. Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus passes those values down to us. Rembrandt loved the story of Jesus at Emmaus for its depiction of Christ as teacher, opening the eyes of His disciples to the truth of his being and his continued connection to them. Rembrandt reconnected in a deeply personal way with Jesus by choosing a Jewish model—an outcast, like the outcasts with whom Christ (and Rembrandt himself) chose to keep company. As amazing as it is to come face to face with so many Rembrandts in a single setting—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—the true wonder of Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus comes in standing face to face with a revolutionary moment in the depiction of Christ. Seeing Jesus as human seems commonplace today in our post-romantic age, but this exhibition reminds us of just how revolutionary and how important that shift—led by Rembrandt—once was and still is.

via How Rembrandt Changed the Face of Jesus | Picture This | Big Think.

I would add that it isn’t just that Rembrandt’s pictures of Jesus show Him as  “human.”  They affect us more than that.  They depict Him as human while also being divine.  They are personal rather than impersonal.   I ascribe that to the Reformation understanding of Christ and the Gospel, that Jesus is “for you.”

 

Rembrandt's Jesus

 

HT: Joe Carter

And now non-visible art

A major trend in the 20th and 21st century art world has to become ever more “minimalist.”  As artists have tried to achieve the least possible gesture that could be called art–going from representations to idealizations to reductions to basic forms to pure forms to color fields to lines to found objects–they arrived at “conceptual art,” in which there is no art at all, just the idea for the art.  Museums and art buyers can purchase and display the notes that record the idea for the work of art, which is never made.  Now we have “The Museum of Non-Visible Art,” in which there is nothing at all.   And it has recorded its first sale:  Woman Pays $10,000 For ‘Non-Visible’ Work Of Art » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

At the link, Joe Carter goes into all of this.  He then offers for sale his own line of non-existent art for a mere $19.95 apiece.   He specifies, however, that he only takes money that is real, not imaginary.

The Devil’s interval

by Jimmy Veith

Have you ever been freaked out by a piece of music that sounded evil? Have you heard combinations of notes that were so dissonant that it made you tense and restless, but yet was strangely alluring? Well, you may have been placed under the spell of the Devil’s interval, known in music theory as the augmented 4th or flatted 5th.

Let me explain. Remember when Maria, the good Nun from “The Sound of Music”, taught the children how to sing, with the Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do song? That was the major scale on which most Western music is based. In the key of C, it would be all the white keys on the piano; ie, C, D, E, F, G, A B and C. Each note of the scale is assigned a number. In the key of C, C is 1, D is 2, E is 3, F is 4, G is 5, A is 6 and B is 7.

For some mysterious reason, the major scale is not symmetrical in its intervals. There are whole steps between C, D, and E, but a half step from E to F. There are whole steps between F, G, A and B, but a half step from B to C. Now, let’s create a more sinister sounding scale by eliminating the half steps and playing only whole steps. If you start with middle C, you would play C, D, E, F# (G flat), G# (A flat), A# (B flat), then C again. You have just played a scale based on the tri-tones, which is a scale of six different notes in equal intervals as opposed to seven notes found in the major scale.

Now this is where it gets freaky. Play the C and F# (or G flat) together. This is the interval known as the augmented 4th or flatted 5th. Play this over and over again. How does it make you feel? Now play C and G flat in alternating order, over and over again, one second apart. Do you recognize the opening guitar riff in Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”? Play it some more. Have you summoned the devil yet? Ok, that’s enough, Quit Now! Quit Now! Quit Now I say, before it’s too late!

OK. I may be exaggerating. However, this interval has been used by composers when they want to create an atmosphere of evil or dread. It is used extensively by heavy metal groups such as Black Sabbath, and classical compositions such as Wagner’s Gotterdammerung, Beethoven’s Fidelio. Also, it is found in modern compositions such as West Side Story, and the theme song of the Simpson’s.

It has been said that this interval was banned in the middle ages by the clergy. This may be more mythology than fact. Are there any musicologists out there who could shed some light on this issue?

I don’t mean to suggest that artists that use this interval are by any means evil. Great music involves interplay between tension and release, and the use of this interval is one of many tools that a skillful composer can and should use to create tension.

Now here is something for you Lutherans. Consider the great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” by Martin Luther himself. The third line of the first verse reads: “For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe.” The third line of the third verse reads: “The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him. ” The two lines where Luther refers to the Devil in the text of the hymn, also happens to be when the “devil’s interval” is found in the melody line. Just a coincidence? Or genius?

Big Brother Butts In:  I would add one more thing that Jimmy pointed out to me when he was explaining all of this over the piano.  I had always wondered why it is that musical scales have to have those half-steps.  Wouldn’t it be easier and more consistent and more orderly for a scale to have all whole steps? It would, but now I know that a scale with all whole steps is actually discordant.  Not only that, it has the Devil’s Interval!   Which teaches us that perfect regularity is neither beautiful nor good.   True beauty–whether of music or art or literature or a person–needs its quirks, its inconsistencies, its surprises, even its flaws. Philosophies and ideologies that demand utterly consistent regularity–think of Marxism–become inhuman, tyrannical, and demonic.  As do people when they try to fit their neighbors into some regular pattern of whole notes.  And God, who Himself is unutterably complex and confounding to human reason, designed things this way.  (And if you think such connection between music and other kinds of cosmic order is just made up, the old music theorists, such as Bach–anyone know if he used the Devil’s Interval?–thought and made music in these terms.

Where is the John Adams memorial?

Alexander Heffner in the Washington Post raises something that I have long called for:

When President Obama ponders tough decisions at the White House, he may join the cadre of presidents who have sought inspiration in the Truman Balcony’s stunning vista, gazing at the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial, which commemorate our first and third commanders in chief. But there’s a man missing from this presidential panorama.

Where is John Adams, our feisty second president and lifelong American patriot? If George Washington was the sword of the revolution and Thomas Jefferson the pen, why have we neglected the voice of our nation’s independence?

Adams himself predicted this omission. “Monuments will never be erected to me . . . romances will never be written, nor flattering orations spoken, to transmit me to posterity in brilliant colors,” he wrote in 1819, nearly two decades after his single term in office. At his farm in Quincy, Mass., Adams worried that he would be forgotten by history, and for good reason: The temperamental Yankee could never outshine Washington and Jefferson, Virginia’s two-term presidential all-stars — one a brilliant general unanimously chosen to lead the nation, the other the eloquent author of the Declaration of Independence. . . .

It’s a shame he couldn’t see Adams, too. Still, as we celebrate July 4 — the anniversary of the declaration’s adoption and of Adams’s death — it’s high time we honored this “passionate sage,” as Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joseph Ellis titled his Adams biography. He is the founding father most unsung in the capital’s memorial landscape.

What’s the case for Adams? Before the revolution, he was the nation’s first attendant to the American legal tradition of due process, defending British soldiers who fired on colonists during the Boston Massacre. One of Massachusetts’s representatives to the First and Second Continental Congresses, Adams was a champion of separation from England and the fiercest advocate of Jefferson’s declaration. Without his persuasive speeches in the Philadelphia chamber, the document wouldn’t have been signed. While Jefferson was silent during what he considered the convention’s editorial debasement of his work, Adams defended every clause, including an excised call for the abolition of slavery. Jefferson called Adams “a colossus on the floor” of the Congress.

Then, during the war and in its aftermath, Adams assured America’s birth and survival with diplomatic missions to Paris and London. He helped secure a line of credit for the new republic from the Dutch, establishing American solvency. He also helped negotiate a treaty with Great Britain that recognized the United States as a nation.

Most misunderstood — and mistaken as a failure — is Adams’s presidency. Elected in 1796, Adams went against public sentiment to avoid an expensive and unnecessary war. Under enormous diplomatic pressure from France and England to take a side in their interminable conflict, the president refused to entangle his young nation on faraway battlefields. Instead of rallying his Federalist party around aggressive war, he expanded the nation’s Navyto fortify American borders against assault. Adams’s one blunder — signing the Alien and Sedition Acts to empower the executive to limit free speech — overshadows the agile diplomacy that may have cost him a second term. . . .

“John and Abigail Adams should have been on the Mall 100 years ago,” Ellis said. “Adams was so imperfect, honest about losing his temper — he is the ultimate example of what we need to learn” from the founders.

via Why doesn’t John Adams have a memorial in Washington? – The Washington Post.

And then we should put up a monument to James Madison, the man who basically wrote the Constitution!