Across the Transom: July 2022

An astoundingly good 'zine, Social Media Flatland, improvisation and criticism

Gahlord Dewald :: 7/31/22 :: Minneapolis, Minnesota


Sometimes maintenance involves shooting the shark.

Stewart Brand in "The Maintenance Race"


Gann perceives Coleman’s work as having two sides, improvisation, which he assigns to jazz, not inaccurately in Coleman’s case, and composition, which he assigns to classical. He spends the rest of the review exploring this jazz/classical dualism, saying that it works to improvise on a Monk piece but not on an idea from Xenakis or Ives, because jazz compositions are “solid” and classical pieces are “delicate.” Like Velez’s “ethnic” material, rigorous jazz can stand up to obstreperous improvisers, but sweet innocent classical composition requires gentle care, even something as gnarly as Xenakis. Coleman’s attempt to bring his players’ improvisatory skills into his composition fails because “Wanting to be a club jazzer, Coleman seems determined to let his players follow their instincts; his genius, though, is for crazily individual ideas, for tuning in to wavelengths so weird no regular session man could follow.” Putting aside the absurdity of calling Don Byron and Marc Ribot “regular session men,” Gann’s prescription for Coleman is that, like Gann himself did, he needs to pick a side - dumb his ideas down and compose for improvisors, or get serious and start writing stuff down like a real composer. “My hunch is that he either needs to dilute that genius into a mundane vision his players can contribute to, or else give up the free-and-easy life and write notes on paper.” In-betweenness doesn’t work for Gann. Serialism vs Minimalism is the main compositional dialectic, with improvisation the annoying third wheel taking up space in the musical life of New York. Better to just push it off into the jazz clubs so he can ignore it, but since it’s here in his jurisdiction, the concert hall, he is indignant.

Ted Reichman's "This Cold War With You"


Everything we do is in some very indirect way connected to our everyday experience. Even in a very abstract field, people with different backgrounds might have different working habits, or important core beliefs that are not directly related to mathematics but can influence the way they attack problems.

Marina Vizovska interviewed in Davide Castelvecchi's "‘Mathematics is an unknown land’: meet Fields Medal winner Maryna Viazovska"


Capitalism has alienated us from seeking purpose in life, and claimed an unreasonable monopoly on both the role "work" plays in our personal and collective existence, and money as the only reasonable value derived. If all the jobs we work are shit–and, more importantly, if everything we do we treat as work–of course we're going to think it's all shitty, exploitative, and kinda pointless. If we treat ourselves and our relationships like ore, every request made of them is going to feel extractive (another word I'm hoping will peak soon). If money becomes the only reward we recognize, of course we're gong to feel perennially underpaid. Trying to picture that post-capitalist utopia–a life after selling our time for money–becomes confounding when we've psychologically forfeited everything that makes us us to the hustle.

Hextape.wav in the astoundingly good 'zine Fuck you, don't pay me


Putting digital recording devices in every pocket may be the contemporary equivalent to Harry Smith’s records circulating in every community. We can now easily document everywhere we go, in audio and video - yet everywhere we go is more and more rapidly deteriorating from the vast amounts of resources devoted to enabling that documentation.

Damon Krukowski in "The Last Field Recordists"


Times are tough, and we are—all of us—looking for answers to literal questions of life and death. Will humans survive the coming waves of pandemics and climate change? Do our genes contain the key to understanding everything about us? Will technology save us, or will it destroy us? The desire for a wise guide—a sort of prophet who boldly leaps across multiple disciplines to provide simple, readable, confident answers, tying it all together in page-turning stories—is understandable. But is it realistic?


Science populists are gifted storytellers who weave sensationalist yarns around scientific “facts” in simple, emotionally persuasive language. Their narratives are largely scrubbed clean of nuance or doubt, giving them a false air of authority—and making their message even more convincing. Like their political counterparts, science populists are sources of misinformation. They promote false crises, while presenting themselves as having the answers. They understand the seduction of a story well told—relentlessly seeking to expand their audience—never mind that the underlying science is warped in the pursuit of fame and influence.

Darshana Narayanan in "The Dangerous Populist Science of Yuval Noah Harari"


In preparation for upcoming travel, I learned more about mask fit-testing.

The signal that you do get back from social media is noisy. By that, I mean there's a lot of randomness mixed in. There are basic factors like what time of day you post, what else is going on that day, if it's a weekend, etc. On top of that, the algorithms that these sites use to determine what posts to show can greatly exaggerate whether a post does "well" or not. They are especially sensitive to how the first few people that see it react to it, and if those folks don't happen to dig it, then a lot of your audience may never even see the post. All together, this means you aren't even getting an accurate sense of whether your audience really likes something or not.


A final problem is that the feedback from the audience gets simplified down to roughly one single number of "likes". The first issue with a single-number "score" is that it's way too easy to mentally compare it to other work of your own or the work of other artists. The second issue is that it doesn't capture how much those people liked the work, or why they liked it. In general, it's better to have a few people love your work than to have many people simply like it.

Tyler Hobbs in "Why Social Media is an Emotional Challenge for Artists."


At a time when the classical canon was considered sacrosanct, Mr. Taruskin advanced the philosophy that it was a product of political forces. His bête noire was the widespread notion that Beethoven symphonies and Bach cantatas could be divorced from their historical contexts. He savagely critiqued this idea of “music itself,” which, he wrote, represented “a decontaminated space within which music can be composed, performed and listened to in a cultural and historical vacuum, that is, in perfect sterility.”


“Being the true voice of one’s time is (as Shaw might have said) roughly 40,000 times as vital and important as being the assumed voice of history,” [Taruskin] wrote in The Times in 1990. “To be the expressive medium of one’s own age is — obviously, no? — a far worthier aim than historical verisimilitude. What is verisimilitude, after all, but correctness? And correctness is the paltriest of virtues. It is something to demand of students, not artists.”


Mr. Taruskin’s polemics, [Alex Ross] added, “ultimately served a constructive goal of taking classical music out of fantasyland and into the real world.”

William Robin in "Richard Taruskin, Vigorously Polemical Musicologist, Dies at 77"