Album review: Pusha-T – DAYTONA

Since 2013’s My Name Is My Name, one has had the sense that Pusha-T is a genius rapper who has not been allowed adequate freedom as a solo artist. Of course, we know of his genius from his early days in Clipse, when he and his brother No Malice reinvented gangsta rap music with the Neptunes-produced Lord Willin’ and Hell Hath No Fury. But, since then, as a solo artist, Pusha-T has only shown flashes of the potential that he first showed as one half of Clipse in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the most notable of these being the Kanye West-produced “Numbers on the Board,” a mini-masterpiece which demonstrated the crucial fact that Pusha-T requires minimalist production to thrive. His cold elocution, deviously arrogant persona and dark ex-dealer rhymes are always painfully out-of-place on pop-rap anthems.

2015’s King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude was in many ways an improvement upon My Name Is My Name. So is DAYTONA, Pusha-T’s most recent venture, upon Darkest Before Dawn, and for the very same reasons; less bloated production, fewer appearances from second-rate GOOD Music artists like The-Dream, more experimentation, and an even shorter runtime. DAYTONA runs a meager 7 tracks and lasts hardly 21 minutes, but it accomplishes far more than any of the 90-plus-minute megamixes currently offered by Migos, Rae Sremmurd, and the like. Wholly produced by Kanye West, at least half of the credit is due to him. DAYTONA is an album of seven “Numbers on the Boards’s,” and it only further solidifies West’s reputation as the most innovative and important popular musician of the 21st century.

The album opens with “If You Know You Know,” a skeletal banger reminiscent of Yeezus which quickly explodes into ecstatic synths like “Father Stretch My Hands” on The Life of Pablo. “The Games We Play” and “Santeria” are darkly Latin-flavored beats based on guitar licks. The latter features a Spanish R&B interlude that goes over surprisingly well.

“Come Back Baby” is the hardest track on DAYTONA, with three verses consisting solely of a swelling bass-line and two hooks sampling The Mighty Hannibal’s “The Truth Shall Make You Free” without alterations. “What Would Meek Do?” is a conversation between Pusha-T and West about current drama over an eerie, energetic beat. What does Kanye have to say? “Poop, scoop! Whoop! Whoopty-whoop!” among other things. Suffice it to say, it goes over far better than West’s own “Ye vs. the People” with T.I., or “Lift Yourself,” for that matter.

DAYTONA closes with “Infrared,” which is proving to be the album’s most impactful track. Pusha-T brutalizes Drake, Lil Wayne and other enemies while simultaneously solidifying his reputation as the godlike gangster he’s claimed to be since “Dirty Money” in 2006. “The lyric pennin’ equal the Trumps winnin’ / The bigger question is how the Russians did it / It was written like Nas, but it came from Quentin.” “The only rapper sold more dope than me was Eazy-E / How could you ever right these wrongs / When you don’t even write your songs?” Drake was so offended that he fired back with the similarly excellent “Duppy Freestyle.” One can only hope this beef will produce more excellent tracks.

The only track on DAYTONA that feels slightly out-of-place is the slower and more luxuriant “Hard Piano.” Rick Ross offers one of his best verses, but the song still feels irredeemably unfinished. The “Maybach music” samples are delightful, but the “Santo Domingo” hook is utterly absurd and out-of-date; it sounds like a bad reject from the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sessions.

DAYTONA is the type of rap album Pusha-T (and the world) needs. It is brief, (though maybe too brief), raw (though maybe too raw), and experimental. Even the album cover, supposedly changed at the last moment to a photograph of the late Whitney Houston’s bathroom, is bold. Apparently, DAYTONA is simply the much-awaited King Push renamed for artistic reasons. If not, I hope that that album (or whatever Pusha’s next may be) will only continue the trend of more experimentation and individuality begun here. DAYTONA shows, finally and categorically, that Pusha-T is still capable of making a masterpiece in the contemporary era, if he can only work with his producers to polish his sound for a bigger and more substantial piece. Its success bodes well for Kanye West’s own next album, which contains seven tracks also and is supposedly out June 1st.

8/10

58 dead in border protests after US embassy in Israel relocated to Jerusalem

On Monday, May 14, according to Vox, Gaza had its bloodiest day since the 2014 war. In total, 58 Palestinians were killed, and over 1,200 were injured, by Israeli forces, at the border, during protests after American President Donald Trump’s relocation of the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The violence is a continuation of the 51-year-old conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, in the region, over territory, immigration and related issues. Both groups want control of Jerusalem, with the Palestinians specifically wanting East Jerusalem, to be the capital of their future state. The Palestinians oppose the blockade on the border of Israel and want Palestinians to be able to return to Jerusalem, their homeland, which contains many monuments sacred to both groups. Throughout the conflict, the United States has been a staunch supporter of Israel and its control of Jerusalem. Israel, the United States, and the United Nations recognize Hamas, the current governing body of the Palestinian territory Gaza, as a terrorist organization.

The Guardian reported that President Trump first announced plans to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem in a short speech delivered last December, where he also recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He stated, “I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.” Officials then claimed the transition would take at least three years, so it came as a shock to the international community when it took fewer than six months.

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and his promise to move the embassy, were highly controversial, being widely condemned by US Allies including the UK and by Palestine and other Islamic states. The Israeli government, however, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called Monday a “glorious day,” praised Trump when he made the recognition and promise, and in May when he acted upon it. At the opening ceremony of the new embassy in Jerusalem, Washington ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, stated, optimistically, “Today’s historic event is attributed to the vision, courage, and moral clarity of one person to whom we owe an enormous and eternal debt of gratitude: President Donald J Trump” according to The New York Times.

The mood at the border was more chaotic, to say the least. The Guardian reports that protestors lit tires on fire to create “smoke screens” against Israeli snipers. They then rushed the fence, though none made it through, according to the Israeli military, which claimed, “The rioters are hurling firebombs and explosive devices towards the security fence and IDF forces, and are burning tires, throwing rocks and launching flaming objects in order to ignite fires in Israeli territory and harm IDF troops.” Hamas has encouraged and funded protests, and actively encouraged protestors at the border on May 14 to rush the fence over a loudspeaker. The violence raised the death toll of the recent protests to over 100.

Many have criticized Israel for their violent response to the protests. According to Real Clear Politics, Amnesty International called Israel’s actions “horrific” while senator Bernie Sanders said, “Instead of applauding Israel for its actions, Israel should be condemned. Israel has a right to security, but shooting unarmed protesters is not what it is about.” The White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah, however, only blamed Hamas saying, “We believe Hamas is responsible for these tragic deaths,” he told reporters. “Their rather cynical exploitation of the situation is what’s leading to these deaths and we want it stopped.”

With President Trump’s recent withdrawal of the United States from the Iran deal and now this, tensions are mounting in the Middle East. As Vox points out, Trump’s transference of the US embassy basically takes the idea of a Palestinian state off the table. Peace in the Middle East, the espoused goal of both Hamas and the Israeli government, seems far off.

Film review: Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson’s wonderful new stop-motion animated film is called Isle of Dogs. It’s set in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki, where a recent outbreak of dog flu and snout fever has pushed Mayor Kobayashi to deport all canines to Trash Island. The mayor’s 12-year-old ward, Atari, pilots a tiny plane to the island, where he is taken in by a motley crew led by the stray Chief (Bryan Cranston), in order to rescue his own dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber). Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Courtney B. Vance, Fisher Stevens, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Frank Wood, Kunichi Nomura and Yoko Ono also give vocal performances in the film. Like Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, the film straddles the line between child and adult entertainment, but has more than enough comedy, charm, and beauty to satisfy both audiences.

The story is cute and very funny, but not as interesting as Fantastic Mr. Fox or any of Anderson’s recent great live-action films, such as Moonrise Kingdom or The Grand Budapest Hotel. There are two romantic plot lines (one human, one canine) which don’t completely land. In general, I felt that the entire film was a bit too fast-paced. There are a few tender moments between Atari and Chief; they could have been longer and there could have been a few more. So too with the scenes of Spots and his cannibal dog-pack. I wanted more time to enjoy being in Wes Anderson’s world. The director’s preoccupation with sex, alcohol and death is present, and especially humorous as it contrasts with the film’s less-adult themes. Still, Isle of Dogs is a film that will be remembered not for its plot, but for its gorgeous visuals.

On the surface, the film is a stop-motion animated Western pastiche of Japanese aesthetics, but neither the animation nor the pastiche are conventional. The animators use so many different materials (fabric dog-fur, cotton ball clouds, squirming octopus tentacles, scrap metal, colored glass, neon lights, intricately detailed murals) to create a world that is tactile and enchanting. Anderson’s signature symmetrical compositions, knolling, snap-zooms, flat camera movement, and chapter headings contribute to the creation of his fantasy world. These styles are combined in one scene which focuses on the composition of a knolled bento box; what should be boring is unpredictably fascinating. When the dogs brawl, we see a dust-cloud with randomly protruding limbs, as in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Anderson appropriates both traditional Japanese and Neo Tokyo aesthetics for his syncretic style. It transcends mere pastiche because it is unique and self-aware. There are two scenes which feature comical haikus, the second of which is, “What has happened / To man’s best friend / Cherry blossoms fall.” It is clear that Isle of Dogs is not exploitation.

The soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat, who has now done the soundtrack for Anderson’s four most recent films, as well as last year’s The Shape of Water, follows the same pattern. It includes Taiko drumming, themes from Kurosawa movies (Seven Samurai, Drunken Angel), a few pieces of classical music and some psychedelic music from the 1960’s.

Some have accused Wes Anderson of racism for his appropriation of Japanese aesthetics and his apparently stereotypical portrayal of the Japanese people in the film, which is alleged to include a (sincere) “white savior” narrative. The first claim is groundless; Isle of Dogs is transformative and its aesthetic is totally it’s own. There is more merit to the second claim, however, and while I was watching the film I agreed. The Japanese accent is mockingly exaggerated and the most of the Japanese characters are totally flat besides their irrational and virulent hatred for man’s best friend. In this situation, Tracy Walker, a naively confident foreign exchange student, appears to be mutts’ only hope. However, when she and her classmates march on stage to protest dog-deportation during one of Mayor Kobayashi’s Hitler-esque speeches, her visa is publicly revoked and she is hilariously humiliated. In the end, it is in fact Atari who saves the day. Rather than perpetrate a “white savior” narrative, as Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times claims, Tracy’s storyline is in fact a critical parody of those narratives.

On another level, Isle of Dogs is a film made specifically for the Japanese people. As Moeko Fuji explains in her article for The New Yorker, “What ‘Isle of Dogs’ Gets Right About Japan,” the mostly-untranslated Japanese dialogue features many jokes and references that would only make sense to natives. Also, the amount of Japanese people involved in the production of the film is unprecedented. When critics like Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest calls it “racist” and “infuriatingly bad,” he fails to see how Isle of Dogs intentionally pokes fun at white people like him who think they know how a realistic portrayal of Japanese culture should be.

On the other hand, a few critics have overrated the film’s political impact. CJ Johnson of ABC Radio wrote that, “Anderson’s looking at war, retribution, notions of nationality and nationalism, isolationism, culture and individualism.” I don’t think it’s that deep; maybe I’m missing something.

★★★☆

The Trump’s administration’s first state dinner

The Trump administration held their first state dinner, in honor of French President Emmanuel Macron, on Tuesday, April 24. First Lady Melania Trump was the head organizer of the event, and it was a prime opportunity for her to prove herself. She chose not to bring in an outside event planner.

White House state dinners are a historical tradition. They are usually held in the State Dining Room (though larger ones, such as those held by Barack Obama, are held outside under tents) and are an opportunity for the President to meet with, and honor one or more foreign heads of state. According to the White House Historical Association, the first state dinner was held in 1874 by President Ulysses S. Grant to honor King David Kalakaua of the Kingdom of Hawaii. President Barack Obama held 13 state dinners during his tenure.

The Trump dinner was attended by around 150 people, none of whom were journalists or Congressional Democrats. It was decorated in a gold and cream color scheme. The menu for the dinner was in an American style, inspired by French cuisine. The first course featured goat cheese gateau, tomato jam, buttermilk biscuit crumbles, and young variegated lettuces. The main course featured rack of spring lamb, burnt cipollini soubise, and Carolina gold rice jambalaya. For dessert, they ate nectarine tart and crème fraîche ice cream. Fox News reported that for entertainment, Mrs. Trump opted for the Washington National Opera over popstars, as was done for most of the Obama administration’s state dinners.

Following a less formal dinner with the Macrons, at Mount Vernon (the home of George Washington), on Monday night, the First Lady greeted the Macrons on Tuesday morning dressed in a white Michael Kors skirt and blazer, and a Hervé Pierre hat. For the dinner, she wore a Chanel Haute Couture dress, which received great praise from many media outlets, including CNN, for its elegance.

ABC News reported that the President used the toast as an opportunity to thank his wife, saying “To America’s absolutely incredible first lady, thank you for making this an evening we will always cherish and remember. Thank you, Melania.”

But, though it was elegant, the Trumps’ first state dinner was not without argument. Trump lambasted the Iran deal, which he is against and Macron is for. The Iran deal is an agreement reached in 2015 between Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, Germany, and the totality of the European Union, which lifted sanctions on Iran in return for limiting their nuclear program until 2025. Trump opposes it because he believes it is inadequate; having no control over Iran’s development of ballistic missiles and other non-nuclear weapons and their behavior in the Middle East (i.e., supporting Islamist terrorist organizations), and for its temporary time frame. He blasted the deal, calling it “insane” and “ridiculous.” However, as CNN reported, Trump seemed more amenable in a news conference afterwards, saying “We can be flexible. You know, in life you have to be flexible, and as leaders of countries, you have to show flexibility.” After the dinner, it is unclear what the fate of the Iran deal will be.

In one particularly memorable moment of the dinner, according to The Hill, President Trump brushed a piece of “dandruff” off of Emmanuel Macron’s shoulder, saying “They’re all saying what a great relationship we have, and they’re actually correct. We do have a very special relationship. In fact, I’ll get that little piece of dandruff off — we have to make him perfect. He is perfect.” The President of France laughed.

 

 

 

The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal and the testimony of Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform, has been under fire recently for a scandal involving data immorally obtained from its servers by the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. In 2014, Cambridge Analytica began collecting identifiable personal information from an alleged 87 million users, 70 million of which are Americans (according to Facebook). According to the BBC, though Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed in a recent testimony, before the U.S. Congress, that the data collected included only mundane things such as “public profile, page likes, birthday and current city,” the scandal, exposed by former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie, has been enough to incite a nationwide conversation about privacy on the internet and consumers’ rights.

The Guardian has reported that Cambridge Analytica collected data in a dishonest method. The firm sent out a survey for allegedly “academic purposes” only, to which several hundreds of thousands of Facebook users consented. However, the survey collected information not only from the consenting users, but also from others in their social network. But, what is even more controversial is that this data was then sold to political groups, including the 2015 presidential campaign of Ted Cruz and politicians involved in the Brexit vote of 2016. Also, according to The New York Times, the data was detailed enough to develop psychographical profiles of its subjects, which could yield useful information to politicians on how to deliver their message to voters in different constituencies.

In the aftermath of the scandal, Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have been very apologetic, calling it an “issue,” a “mistake” and a “breach of trust”; Cambridge Analytica have been less so. They maintain that the collected data amounts to that of only 30 million users, not 87.

It is also believed, by many on the left, that Cambridge Analytica played a crucial role in the election of President Donald Trump. Secret footage filmed by BBC’s Channel 4 News revealed bosses of the firm bragging about their role in his presidential campaign. Furthermore, a link has been drawn between Cambridge Analytica and the alleged efforts of the Kremlin in Trump’s campaign. Hillary Clinton has said, in Business Insider, “So you’ve got Cambridge Analytica, you’ve got the Republican National Committee — which, of course, had always done data collection and analysis — and you’ve got the Russians. And the real question is how did the Russians know how to target their messages so precisely to undecided voters in Wisconsin or Michigan or Pennsylvania; that is really the nub of the question. So if they were getting advice from, let’s say, Cambridge Analytica or someone else about ‘OK, here are the 12 voters in this town in Wisconsin — that’s whose Facebook pages you need to be on to send these messages,’ that indeed would be very disturbing.”

Clinton’s remarks about the dishonesty and creepiness of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook’s actions represent those of many Americans on either side of the political spectrum. According to CBS News, speaking on a recent poll about the scandal, “Eight in ten Americans who took the poll said they weren’t surprised to discover outside companies got hold of their data, and 63 percent believe their Facebook data is currently unsafe.”

“Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at his first day of testimony to the U.S. Congress on April 10” image taken from: https://techcrunch.com/2018/04/11/watch-zuckerberg-testimony-online/

According to The New York Times, in response to allegations of dishonesty, poor regulation, and monopoly, Zuckerberg testified before the US Congress on April 10 and 11. Though he stated that Russia and Cambridge Analytica are corporations that “seek to harm us and hack our democracy,” and, “Do we have a responsibility for the content people share on Facebook? I think the answer to that question is yes,” Zuckerberg offered evidence of no actual solutions for the crisis being implemented, and was hesitant to answer any significant proposals of reform with a yes or no answer. This is especially important seeing as the Cambridge Analytica data scandal is not the first political scandal Facebook has been involved in in recent years; there were also the “fake news” and hate speech controversies. Zuckerberg’s testimony was perhaps more entertaining than informative, with internet commentators and meme creators teasing “Zucc” for his use of a booster seat and his alleged “reptilian” appearance mannerisms, especially on the social media network Reddit.

Vox reports that a civil rights movement is building against Facebook and it is uncertain how much the company is willing to give. Many protesters claim that Facebook’s virtual monopoly on social media (owning the three largest networks in the company, with Instagram and Facebook Messenger) justifies government intervention. Many individual Americans have sued Facebook in their county for infringements relating to the scandal. But, something even bigger is on the horizon: on Thursday, as reported by The Guardian, a joint US/UK class-action lawsuit was filed against Facebook, Cambridge Analytics and two other companies for using individuals’ private information for “political propaganda campaigns.” Even after the repealing of net neutrality laws last December, the future of consumer rights online may not be so bleak.

Classical Music: then and now

 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart image taken from: https://www.biography.com/people/wolfgang-mozart-9417115

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is classical music dead? The National Endowment for the Arts reported in 2016 that in 2012, only 8.8% of Americans had attended a classical music performance in the previous 12 months, compared to 11.6% a decade earlier. If classical music is not dead, then this statistic is a sign that it is at least dying in the United States. It’s hard to know exactly why this is the case. But, before we examine it further, we should establish what classical music is.

What is classical music?

Classical music, called “Western art music” by academics, is the tradition of music rooted in Western culture, with advanced structural and theoretical concerns, and which is almost always notated. Of course, this is a vague distinction, and the border between “classical” and “popular” music is often blurred (consider Mozart’s divertimenti in the Classical period, or Kurt Weill’s score for The Threepenny Opera in the modern era). “Classical music” also refers to a particular period, and associated style, in Western art music, from about 1730 to 1820.

Is classical music still being made?

Yes! Classical music (symphonies, chamber music, opera, etc.) is still being written in and out of universities internationally. There is a belief that all classical music sounds like Mozart or Beethoven, but this is not the case. Though less known among the general public, modern classical music developed in radical directions with composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen, who composed electronic music, and a string quartet, to be performed with each composer in a separate helicopter, among other things, and Philip Glass, whose scores can be heard in many major motion pictures including Koyaanisqatsi and The Hours.

A Brief History of Classical Music

Western art music begins in the Medieval era, with the notation of Gregorian chant. Gregorian chant, also called plainsong, is monophonic, meaning it contains only a single melodic line. Polyphony, the use of multiple melodic lines, developed by composers of organa (Leonin, Perotin) and Latin masses (Machaut). Classical music during this era was almost solely vocal, with instruments only providing support for vocal lines. It was always religious.

The Renaissance saw the blossoming of polyphony in France (Johannes Ockeghem, Guillaume Dufay), Italy (Josquin des Prez, Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina), and Britain (Thomas Tallis, William Byrd). Rather than use a modal system as had been previously standard, composers moved towards the contemporary tonal system with major and minor keys (Naxos). The first great opera was birthed in this period, L’Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi.

The Baroque period, the most famous composers of which are J.S. Bach, Georg Frideric Handel, Antonio Vivaldi and Domenico Scarlatti, was the beginning of classical music as we know it. The violin, the modern orchestra, concertos, sonatas and the harpsichord were invented during this period. The music was quite literally “baroque,” often extremely complex and academic. However, baroque music could also be lighter and entertaining, as in Handel’s Water Music.

The Classical period is the period of Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It held melody, clarity, and balance as its main values. Art music became less complex, favoring homophony with chordal accompaniment. The orchestra was expanded and classical music became more spectacular. The period also birthed Beethoven, who is often considered to be the first composer of the Romantic era, and the greatest composer in the Western tradition.

The Romantic era held expressivity as its highest value. It begins with Beethoven and Schubert in the 1820’s and ends with (in my opinion) the death of Richard Strauss in 1949 and the performance of his Four Last Songs in 1950, having a significant overlap with the modern period. (Classical music trends in the 20th century are so variegated that it is hard to give the period a descriptive name, rather music from it is usually just referred to as “20th-century classical music”). Nationalism was a powerful artistic force, and the virtuoso was granted an elevated status.

The Early Romantic era (1820-1860) is dominated by Berlioz, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Liszt (Naxos). The Late Romantic era is dominated by Johannes Brahms, Giuseppe Verdi (Italian opera composer), Richard Wagner (German opera composer), Claude Debussy and two symphonic giants: Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler. The romantic tradition (tonality, expressivity, chromaticism) was continued in the 20th century by Jean Sibelius and Richard Strauss, despite modernist provocations.

The modern period of classical music begins with the 9th Symphony of Gustav Mahler, Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring, and Arnold Schoenberg’s early atonal works. Atonal music, especially in its extreme, systemized form, called serialism, dominated the modern period. Atonal music is keyless and does not conform to Western harmony. Serialist music is based on the repetition of a certain random series of the twelve tones in the traditional tonal system. It is easier to understand by ear; listen to Arnold Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto for a notable example.

Later in the modern period, electronic music was pioneered by the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Serialism was taken to an extreme by the Frenchman Pierre Boulez. Iannis Xenakis, a Greek composer, made perhaps the most incredible music of the period. His music was inspired by his work as an architect, featuring extremely large string orchestrations which pushed the boundaries of sound. Some scholars consider classical music to still be in its modern period, and that tradition persists, but most significant classical music today is apart of a new movement, Postmodern music.

Postmodern music, by its definition, is hard to define. The music author Daniel Albright identified three common elements of postmodern music; Polystylism, Randomness, and Bricolage (the use of nonmusical objects in music). John Cage, a composer who utilized the prepared piano (a piano with its strings modified by the use of inserted objects) and random-chance procedures to generate his music, is considered the father of postmodern music. Charles Ives, an American composer of the 20th century who interpreted popular music and was one of the first composers to write with semitones (the tones in between the traditional 12)  and polytonality (the use of two musical keys simultaneously) is considered a predecessor.

Tonal music has also had a resurgence in the postmodern age. Philip Glass and other minimalists, as they are called, created a style of composition based on the repetition with variation of short, highly tonal phrases.

Classical music in the modern era is perhaps more diverse than it has ever been. The number of composers and artistic movements is innumerable.

For more information on the history of classical music, see the articles “History of Classical Music” on Naxos and “Summary of Western Classical Music History” from Columbia University.

So why is classical music dying among the general public?

Again, it is hard to say. One argument has to do with concert performances. Before the recording era, concert performances were at the heart of classical music culture. Today, they are often incredibly expensive and overly formal. This has doubtlessly pushed away many would-be fans of classical music.

Classical music education, and arts education in general, is narrowing in public schools. Also, as reported by USA Today, classical music is no longer a part of popular culture in any significant way, as it once was in the 1950’s and 60’s, when the classical music recording industry was more successful than any other.

I hope that there can be a resurgence of classical music love among the general public. It was not too long ago that one could hear men humming Beethoven’s Fifth.

Appendix: Introductory musical recommendations

Medieval:

The organa of Léonin and Pérotin

Ordo Virtutum (Bingen, morality play)

Messe de Nostre Dame (Machaut, vocal mass)

Renaissance:

Missa Pange lingua (des Prez, vocal mass)

Missa Papae Marcelli (Palestrina, vocal mass)

Spem in alium (Tallis, motet)

Baroque:

L’Orfeo (Monteverdi, opera)

Dido and Aeneas (Purcell, opera)

Messiah (Handel, oratorio)

Brandenburg Concertos (Bach, orchestral)

Mass in B minor (Bach, orchestral mass)

Classical:

The Creation (Haydn, oratorio)

The Seasons (Haydn, oratorio)

Piano Sonata No. 14 (Mozart)

Cosi fan tutte (Mozart, opera)

Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter” (Mozart)

Symphony No. 3, “Eroica” (Beethoven)

Early Romantic:

Symphony No. 9, “Choral” (Beethoven)

String Quartet No. 14 (Beethoven)

Winterreise (Schubert)

Les Troyens (Berlioz)

Ballades (Chopin)

Late Romantic:

Symphony No. 4 (Brahms)

Ein deutsches requiem (Brahms, orchestral mass)

Otello (Verdi, opera)

Tristan und Isolde (Richard Wagner, opera)

Parsifal (Richard Wagner, opera)

Symphony No. 8 (Bruckner)

Symphony No. 9 (Mahler)

Pelleas et Melisande (Debussy, opera)

Symphony No. 7 (Sibelius)

Vier letzte lieder (Strauss, art songs)

Modern:

Symphony No. 4 (Ives)

Le Sacre du Printemps (Stravinsky, ballet)

Symphony (Webern)

Lulu (Berg, opera)

Symphony: Mathis der Maler (Hindemith)

Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Messiaen, chamber music)

Piano Concerto (Schoenberg)

Déserts (Varèse, orchestral/electronic)

Metastaseis (Xenakis, orchestral)

Gesang der Jünglinge (Stockhausen, electronic)

Pli selon pli (Boulez, orchestral)

Postmodern:

Sonatas and Interludes (Cage, prepared piano)

Music of Changes (Cage, piano)

Sinfonia (Berio, orchestral)

Einstein on the Beach (Glass, opera)

Rothko Chapel (Feldman, orchestral)

For Philip Guston (Feldman, chamber music)

Plexure (John Oswald, electronic)

Powder Her Face (Adès, opera)

String Quartet No. 6 (Ferneyhough)

Film review: Phantom Tread

Phantom Thread is Paul Thomas Anderson’s most recent film, starring Daniel Day-Lewis in his supposedly final role. Set in the London couture world of the 1950’s, it follows the turbulent romance of Reynolds Woodcock (Lewis), an obsessive fashion designer, and his muse and lover Alma (Vicky Krieps). Like the dresses Woodcock’s sewers meticulously craft, Phantom Thread is a work of fine beauty.

The first thing to notice is the atmosphere. The cinematography is, as one would expect of an Anderson feature, elegant and gorgeous. The camera seems to float through the various living rooms, sewing rooms, and spiral staircases in the Woodcock mansion. Or, in one incredible scene, it is fixed to the back of Woodcock’s car as he drives through the English countryside. Jonny Greenwood’s lyrical soundtrack plays in the background for nearly the entirety of the first 30 minutes, and for much of the rest of the film. Phantom Thread feels like a dream. As Mark Kermode has pointed out, Phantom Thread plays like a modern fairy tale, with its dresses and magic charms.

Rarely in film, and especially in dramas, are the aesthetic elements, image and sound, so masterfully composed as to be totally enjoyable on their own, despite plot. But, Phantom Thread’s aesthetic value is comparable to that of any art film. The simplicity of the film’s first act led me to believe that this would be the biggest compliment that I could pay it, but as the film progressed I realized that I was sorely mistaken. Phantom Thread is not only a beautiful movie, but a captivating drama.

Characters in Paul Thomas Anderson’s films never have simple (or healthy) relationships, a fact which becomes invariably more important as each film progresses. Consider Eddie and Maggie’s Oedipal romance in Boogie Nights and Daniel and H.W.’s abusive father-son relationship in There Will Be Blood. From a dramatic point-of-view, this is Anderson’s greatest skill as a filmmaker. His stories begin archetypal, but progress by subverting those very archetypes.

Phantom Thread follows this pattern. It is ostensibly a love story, but its perverse developments and sickly romantic ending lead us to reconsider love itself. In a Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, Anderson is asked if he “sanctions” the actions Alma takes in order to get closer to Woodcock, and if he considers Alma and Woodcock’s relationship to be in any way “healthy.” Anderson responds that he is, “Groovy with love of all kinds.”

Anderson is not a psychologist, but a poet. If we are to appreciate Phantom Thread as a work of cinematic poetry, we must focus on the impression that it makes, and not on its underlying morality, which may very well be sick. We must not worry about justifying the beauty of Phantom Thread. Instead we should focus on appreciating it.

The film ends with a montage of Alma and Woodcock’s life together beyond the movie, and the multiple false endings within it create a sense of unending love and beauty. If this ove is unrealistic or even sick, it is at least beautiful. With Greenwood’s soundtrack in the background, it is reminiscent of the film’s beginning, creating a satisfying circular structure, at least aesthetically.

Lastly, it should be mentioned just how “funny” Phantom Thread is. Woodcock’s fussiness, and Alma’s waywardness, create a dynamic that is hilarious and adorable in its immaturity. Cyril, Woodcock’s deathly serious sister and business partner, also provides comic relief, as well as deep insight into either star. The stars act like two children, which may be why they are so likeable even when they do the most evil things.

So, Phantom Thread succeeds on all fronts. It is a feast for the senses and for the heart. I agree with Mark Kermode that it is, in fact, Paul Thomas Anderson’s greatest film yet.

★★★★ out of four

On Sunday night, Phantom Thread received one (for Best Costume Design) out of the six Academy Awards it was nominated for. It lost in the Best Picture and Best Director categories to The Shape of Water and its director Guillermo Del Toro, respectively. Though Phantom Thread deserved to win both, I am not totally unsatisfied with those results. The Shape of Water is a very good film, and Del Toro a talented director. Daniel Day-Lewis losing to Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) in the Best Actor category, however, was incredibly disappointing.

What is happening with the stock market?

Financial data on a monitor, Stock market data on LED image taken from: https://www.istockphoto.com/photos/stock-market

On Monday, February 5, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 1,597 points, the most it had ever dropped in the middle of a single trading day. The Dow had recently hit a record high of 26,616 points on January 26. According to The Wall Street Journal, as of Friday, February 9, the Dow had dipped 2426 points from that high, a 9% decrease, dangerously close to what is known as a stock market “correction,” a 10% decrease after an extended time of growth. This sounds very bad, but what does it even mean?

Investopedia gives information about the stock market, including how the stock market itself, describes the trading of shares (put simply, an investment in a corporation). The Dow Jones Industrial Average, as well as the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq Stock Market, are measures of the average trading value of stocks based on the stock prices of several major corporations. When they decline, that means stocks are less valuable. For people with money invested in the market, this is bad. But, it is not necessarily bad for most Americans, and it could even be good for new investors.

According to Slate, the reason for the downturn in the stock market actually has to do with recent news that is good for Americans. On February 2, the U.S. Labor Department announced that workers were being paid more than economists predicted they would be. To stock traders, this meant that the Federal Reserve would probably raise interest rates on stocks to compensate, meaning they would have to pay more money to their investors. Thus, they sold many stocks quickly and for decreased value, creating the downturn. This downturn had knock-on effects around the world, most noticeably in markets in Japan and Hong Kong.

As reported by CNN, this does not mean the US, or the world, is going through an economic recession, as it did in 2008. Most economists say that this downturn was bound to happen; the stock market had grown consistently since the Great Recession, and especially so since the election of President Donald Trump. Economists advise people with stocks not to sell, but to hold their stocks until better conditions come about. As for new investors, now is as good a time as any to invest.

President Trump had been claiming, before the decline, the tremendous stock market growth seen during his presidency as one of his greatest achievements. When the downturn occurred, Trump commented on Twitter, “In the ‘old days,’ when good news was reported, the Stock Market would go up. Today, when good news is reported, the Stock Market goes down. Big mistake, and we have so much good (great) news about the economy!” This is not historically accurate according to the Huffington Post. News of wage increases has sent the stock market into a panic before.

MarketWatch reports that the stock market decline is nothing to worry about for the average American; its most recent fluctuation is totally natural. The Dow Jones is still up (24,609 points, as of February 12), and gaining more-and-more of its lost ground each day. CNN Money predicts that the incoming corporate tax cuts, part of the Republican Senate tax bill, will only help increase stock values, also.

The 2018 Winter Olympics and North Korean involvement

The 2018 Winter Olympics will be held in Pyeongchang County, South Korea. The Winter Olympics are an international multi-sport competition held once every four years in a different country. They are staggered with the Summer Olympics, which are also held once every four years, so that an Olympic Games occurs once every two years. It was first announced that South Korea would host in 2011. It will be the country’s second time hosting the Olympics. It hosted the Summer Games in 1988 (Olympic.org).

As reported by CNN, the 2018 Winter Olympics has brought about great controversy for North Korea’s involvement in it. North Korea (officially called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) and South Korea separated in 1945. Shortly after the separation, the Korean War occurred (1950-1953), which ended in stalemate. Since then, the two Koreas have been separated by a demilitarized zone (DMZ). According to Sky News, relations between the countries has been tense, to say the least. North Korea is a communist dictatorship and South Korea is a liberal democracy, diametrically opposed types of government, but both claim rightful leadership of Korea in totality.

North Korea has been performing nuclear weapons tests since 2006 (most recently on September 3, 2017, “a perfect success,” according to the North Koreans), much to the consternation of South Korea and many Western democracies, including the United States, as noted by the BBC. Delegates from North and South Korea met for peace talks on September, 9, but North Korea continued to test its ballistic missiles afterwards. CNN has even reported that South Korea claims to have a plan to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un if they feel too threatened.

So, with the threat of nuclear war looming, many wondered how South Korea would handle the 2018 Winter Olympics, and what North Korea’s involvement in them would be. Fortunately, it appears that the Olympics have only helped to bring the two countries closer together.

In his 2017 New Year address, Kim Jong Un wished the South Koreans luck in hosting the Games, offered to send a North Korean delegation, and said he wished for a “peaceful resolution with our Southern border [DMZ]” (CNN). Two North Korean figure skaters, Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik, qualified for the Olympics on September, 29, but were not entered by the deadline of December, 21. According to an NRP report, after negotiations between the two Koreas on January 9, it was announced that North Korea would send a delegation of 22 athletes, including the two aforementioned figure skaters. In addition, there will be a united Korean squad playing in women’s ice hockey. North Korea’s involvement in the 2018 Winter Olympics could be a sign of more diplomacy to come between the two Koreas and the rest of the world.

But, not everyone is happy with North Korea’s involvement in the Olympics. According to The Telegraph, some human rights groups think that allowing North Korea to hold any events, as the South Korean minister of sports has gone so far as to recommend, would be an immoral endorsement of authoritarianism, similar to the 1936 Berlin Olympics held in Nazi Germany. The Wall Street Journal has also reported that some see North Korea’s participation as unsafe. France said they would not compete if safety could not be ensured according to Reuters. The Trump-appointed, US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said, “it’s an open question.” Later, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on December, 7, “no official decision has been made” on US involvement in the Games, though she, quite contradictory, also said the US “looks forward to participating” as reported by USA Today.

Whether the US will boycott the 2018 Winter Olympics remains to be seen, but it now appears quite unlikely, with the announcement, reported by ABC News, on January, 10, that Vice President Mike Pence and his wife will attend the opening ceremony of the Games. Still, the Trump administration’s messages are mixed. Is North Korea’s newfound sense of diplomacy genuine, or just a ploy?

Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis

Minneapolis will be hosting Super Bowl LII in the new U.S. Bank Stadium, Sunday, February 4 at 5:30 PM CT. The Super Bowl is the final game of the NFL season, played every year for the past 52 years in a different state, and is the biggest annual sporting event in America according to Sports Illustrated. This is the second time Minneapolis has hosted a Super Bowl; they also hosted Super Bowl XXVI in 1992.

It was first announced that Minnesota would be hosting in 2018 in 2013, just after the Minnesota Vikings went 5-10-1 (5 wins, 10 losses, and 1 tie in a season). Since then, the team has improved tremendously, going 7-9, 11-5, and 8-8 in 2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively (Check out Pro Football Reference for more stats).

We will not know who will be competing in the Super Bowl until the end of the playoffs, which continue on January 13, and end on January 21. It is possible that the Vikings, who are headed to the playoffs with a win-loss ratio of 13-3, will make it to this Super Bowl, and as MPR reported, it would be the first time in over 25 years that a Super Bowl participant would be competing in their own state.

As MPR points out, if the Vikings can survive the playoffs by defeating the New Orleans Saints, and then winning their conference championship game, they will become the first franchise in NFL history to play a Super Bowl in their hometown. It would be the team’s fifth Super Bowl (their last was in 1977), having won not a single previous one.

But, while this may sound nice to Vikings fans, to the organizers of Super Bowl LII, it could create a great “headache,” according to Sports Illustrated. Hosting a Super Bowl is already a technical feat, but the logistical problems that would arise from the Vikings reaching the Super Bowl would make it even more impressive. Just by making it this far, the Vikings must host a divisional-round game at home on January 14, making it the first time a Super Bowl host city has also hosted a divisional-round game, and if Philadelphia loses, the Vikings will also host the NFC title game. According to CBS Minnesota, Downtown Minneapolis will be revoking parking permits in the area on the day of the game, in order to free-up parking space for attendees. If the Vikings do make it to the Super Bowl, the facilities which they, and their competitors use, will have to be swapped, to allow the Vikings to use their home facility as noted by Sports Illustrated.

The Super Bowl is more than just an annual football game and cultural event. For local and national businesses, it is a big commercial opportunity. It receives 100 million American viewers annually, more than three times more than the Oscars, the second largest TV event in America. Thus, the cost of a Super Bowl advertisement is roughly $5 million for a thirty-second spot, not including PR, digital promotion or contests. In total, a good campaign can cost around $10 million, according to ForbesA pop-up marketplace called North Local Market, displaying over 20 local brands, will be set up in City Center in downtown Minneapolis, from January 26 through the Super Bowl (for more information see  the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal).

But, not everyone is happy with the Super Bowl. According to the Minneapolis StarTribune, A coalition group has organized a protest march on the day of the game, from Peavey Park to U.S. Bank Stadium, in a route as of yet unrevealed. Activist Jess Sundin, a head organizer, said she expects to see “several hundred protesters.” They will be protesting against, in their own words, the “racism and corporate greed,” they perceive in the Super Bowl and the various side-acts connected to it.

Individuals interested in attending Super Bowl LII, who do not already have tickets, will be disappointed; the going price on StubHub, one month away from the game, is upwards of $3,200. Fortunately though, according to MPR, the Super Bowl host committee has announced Super Bowl Live, a 10-day festival leading up to Super Bowl Sunday. It will be held outside in Nicollet Mall, and will include free concerts, ice sculptures, and food.

The Vikings must win only two more games in order to make it to Super Bowl LII, and fans will be impatiently waiting until they next play. If they do make it, it will be a historic moment for the Vikings, the NFL, and Minnesota. If they win the Super Bowl, it will be a historic moment for American sports history in general.