Writings about Macs, music and more by Kirk McElhearn

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Essential Music: Einojuhani Rautavaara

08/17/2013

Finnish conductor Einojuhani Rautavaara is enigmatic. His music straddles the line between tonal and atonal, as he dabbled with serialism in the early part of his career, but later discovered his own voice, hyper-romantic and even mystical. I find it hard to describe his music, and compare it to Toru Takemitsu, another composer whose sound […]

Can You Really Tell the Difference Between Music at Different Bit Rates?

08/14/2013

(Note: this article is written for Mac users. If you have Windows tools to recommend, please mention them in the comments.) The bit rate debate regarding compressed music is one that will be around for a long time. Some people think that any compression of music files is anathema. Take Neil Young. He complained about […]

Essential Music: Bill Evans Live in 1980

12/12/2011

Bill Evans may have been the greatest jazz pianist ever, but his life was, unfortunately, too short. Born in 1929, he died on September 15, 1980, of a bleeding ulcer, cirrhosis and pneumonia. A drug addict for much of his career – he had periods where he was hooked on heroin, and others on cocaine […]

Essential Music: Toru Takemitsu

08/13/2011

Way back when, I discovered Toru Takemitsu’s music. I think the first I heard was a few pieces for guitar on an album with a number of twentieth-century guitar works, including one of my favorites, Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal. Something about Takemitsu’s music prompted me to search out other records with his work (this was back in the early 80s, still the LP era), and I found a couple. Listening to his orchestral music hooked me immediately.

I like a wide variety of music, but much “modern” music leaves me cold. I like much minimalism, including Steve Reich and some early Philip Glass; I love Morton Feldman; and I like a variety of other 20th century composers, some, like Sibelius, who are still anchored in melody, and others, like Bartok, whose music is more difficult. I like much of Messiaen’s strange music, and some of the Scandinavian composers. But I’m not a big fan of serialism, or any of the other -isms that turned twentieth-century music into a mass of unlistenable works. (Sure, there are some good things, but much is not to my taste.)

While Takemitsu’s early music was firmly rooted in western avant-garde techniques, around 1977, his style shifted, and this later music is different from most 20th century music. These works are about textures, sound sculptures; when you begin listening to one of his works you enter a landscape, you start moving along a path of sound that takes you through a series of musical moments. None of his works are “big”, in the sense of symphonies, but none are small either, like miniatures. Most of Takemitsu’s best music is orchestral works that range from about ten to twenty minutes long; most have evocative names like A String Around Autumn, Spirit Garden, Tree Line, How Slow the Wind. While he composed some piano music and some chamber music, only one CD is needed to contain all of one or the other. He uses the flute and guitar in many works, and his orchestrations are uniquely subtle; while he may use an entire orchestra, he does so parsimoniously, never adding too many layers of music. He creates sonorous melanges of emotion and feeling, rather than melodic structures. His music sounds like that of no other composer.

Essential Music: Pink Floyd, The Wall

05/25/2011

I hadn’t listened to The Wall in ages, but, this morning, I decided to spin it. I had noticed that Roger Waters is playing four shows in Paris next week, and I was trying to convince my son, who’s doing an internship in Paris, to go see it. (Even if only nosebleed seats are left.) […]

Essential Music: Faith by The Cure

04/19/2011

In a discussion today with a colleague about music, I recalled the wonderful years in the late 70s and early 80s when discovering new music was so different than it is now. One discovered music in “record stores” where one would flip through bins of “LPs” or “albums,” and, if one was lucky, one could […]

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