Blog instructions and prompts for 10 April 2015.

This week we begin rotating our blog posts. This week’s blogs are due Friday, 4/10, by 11:59 p.m.

Blog Group 1: if your last name begins with A through H (inclusive), you are hereafter in “Blog Group 1,” and you have a blog post due this Friday by 11:59 p.m.. Prompts are below. 700+ words.

Blog Group 2: last names I through N. This week, by 23:59 on Friday, you need to read and reply to a blog posting from last week. You can find all of last week’s postings by clicking on the link marked “Week 1 blogs.”

Pick a blog post you find particularly interesting, thought-provoking, question-raising, etc., and probe it further. Again, your goal is not to praise or to bury the original posting, but to engage with its ideas and extend them further. Ideally, you could use materials from this week’s materials that allow you to reflect back on a posting from a previous week…but as long as you’re citing specific examples, you can approach this in many different ways. 300+ words.

Blog Group 3: O through Z. You have this week off. (You’ll have a reply due on 4/17.)

Prompts: As always, you’re welcome to remake or reinvent these prompts however you like, provided that you’re citing specific examples. Please tag your blogs “Blog 2.”

1. Based on your readings and listenings for this week, respond to and elaborate on the following passage from Emily Thompson’s book The Soundscape of Modernity:

To composers like Antheil and Varèse, the noises of the modern city inspired the creation of a new kind of music. When this music was performed in places like Carnegie Hall, audiences were challenged to test their ideas about the distinction between music and noise. Some–including critics like [Lawrence] Gilman and [Paul] Rosenfeld, as well as other perceptive listeners like [William Carlos] Williams–clearly developed a new way of listening, learning not only to celebrate the noise in music, but also to appreciate the music in noise. This was not, however, the only way to test the definition of noise. Acousticians and engineers were also redefining the meaning of sound, with new instruments of their own. When they took those tools out of the laboratory and put them to work in a world filled with sound, they, too, challenged listeners to listen in new ways. (144)

(If you’re super-curious, you can find Thompson’s book on reserve—or parts of it on Google Books).

2. Pound’s Testament de Villon is hardly a noise-music composition of the Amériques or Ballet Mécanique sort; indeed, after hearing those two pieces, Pound’s might sound rather tame. Yet there are many respects in which it still reflects artistic ideals that we might call “modernist”: for example, its settings of Francois Villon, the 15th-century French poet, represent a decisive stroke of classicism, and Antheil aided Pound’s composition of the piece. Analyze how Pound’s Testament de Villon reflects a modernist aesthetic, using Butler’s Very Short Introduction as well as Pound’s essays (“A Retrospect,” on Antheil) to buttress your analysis.

3. Perform a close reading of Russolo’s “Arts of Noise” manifesto. What case does he make for the new kinds of noise that could help remake music? Why, specifically, does he champion noise, either as an artistic material, or as a cultural/social phenomenon? (Here, if you’re curious, are what Russolo’s noisemakers–intonarumori–sound like.)

4. Antheil’s essay “My Ballet Mecanique,” briefly discussed in class, can be found on D2L (under “Course Content” –> “Optional/Recommended”). It’s short: read it and assess its claims in relation to the piece itself.

5. Watch Léger’s film Ballet Mécanique, which includes a reconstruction of Antheil’s score made to fit the film. As discussed in class, the film and music were composed separately, and so we need to be cautious about taking this video too literally. Still, speculate about the relationship between the images onscreen and the music. What’s going on in the film? How do the implications of the title apply to the images as well as to the music? What “themes” from the film can you abstract, and how do they compare or conflict with the music?

6. Why are player-pianos (“pianolas”) so important to Antheil’s Ballet? How do player-pianos work, what might they symbolize, and what might their inner workings tell us about the cultural resonances of Antheil’s piece? (There’s a lot of good recent scholarship on modernism’s player-pianos–let me know if you want to do more research.)

7. Choose your own adventure. (You might want to tackle Antheil’s essay on music and race, if you’re brave, or the relationship between Antheil’s music and jazz, or take up an issue from the scholarly presentation, or any materials from the PowerPoint that I didn’t get to.)


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