Category Archives: Music

On the Town: Live Performances I’ve Attended

Although most of the lists on Make Lists, Not War are meta-lists, some are more personal in nature. Most recently I published a list of every place I’ve lived. Other personal lists include: Where Have I Been? (all the states and countries I’ve visited), The Birds (all the birds I’ve ever seen), My Backyard Menagerie (all the creatures I’ve seen near our house), Native Plants I Have Grown and Loved (Part I and Part II) and Concert Log (all the music and comedy performances I’ve been to). I recently revised the Concert Log to add plays and other theatrical performances, so that all the live performances are together in one list. (Note: I’ve omitted performances in which I participated in some way.)  There are significant gaps here – I know there are other plays, concerts and performances I’ve seen that I can’t recall right now, but I think I’ve covered the most significant ones. Here is the revised list: Live Performance Log.

I guess the real question is, why would anyone but me be interested in this list?  I don’t know the answer.  Some people like to look at other people’s experiences because it provides the vicarious pleasure of seeing through another’s eyes (“Oh, I would love to have seen Led Zeppelin live!”).  Others may use it as inspiration to dig into their own pasts (“I’m going to make my own list!”). For others, reading this list would be a complete waste of time.  No problem.  Read it or not, here I come!

Sean Osborn: Celebrity Guest Lister

Make Lists, Not War is proud to announce that celebrated American classical clarinetist and composer Sean Osborn – a visitor to the website – has provided us with some of his favorites – below are two lists he made: one is Best Operas and the other is Best Clarinet Concertos.  For those who want to know more about Mr. Osborn’s music, check out the following:

His website: http://www.osbornmusic.com/
His recordings: https://www.amazon.com/s?_encoding=UTF8&search-alias=music&field-artist=Sean%20Osborn
His compositions: http://www.osbornmusic.com/workslist.html

BEST CLARINET CONCERTOS (a list by Sean Osborn)
1. Carl Nielsen, Clarinet Concerto, op. 57 (1928)
2. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622 (1791) (tie)
2. John Adams, Gnarly Buttons (1996) (tie)
4. Aaron Copland, Clarinet Concerto (1949)
5. Carl Maria von Weber, Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in Eb Major, Op. 74 (1811)
6. Gerald Finzi, Clarinet Concerto, Op. 31 (1949)
7. Magnus Lindberg, Clarinet Concerto (2002)
8. Jean Françaix, Clarinet Concerto (1968)
9. Carl Maria von Weber, Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor, Op. 73 (1811)
10. William Bolcom, Clarinet Concerto (1992)

BEST OPERAS (a list by Sean Osborn)

Personal Favorite
IL TRITTICO (1. Il tabarro; 2. Suor Angelica; 3. Gianni Schicchi) (1918) Composer: Giacomo Puccini

Masterpieces
LA BOHÈME (THE BOHEMIAN LIFE) (1896) Composer: Giacomo Puccini
OTELLO (OTHELLO) (1887) Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG (TWILIGHT OF THE GODS) (1876) Composer: Richard Wagner
WOZZECK (1925) Composer: Alban Berg
LE NOZZE DI FIGARO (THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO) (1786) Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Some Near-Masterpieces
TOSCA (1900) Composer: Giacomo Puccini
PETER GRIMES (1945) Composer: Benjamin Britten
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (1979) Composer: Stephen Sondheim
COSÌ FAN TUTTE
 (THUS DO THEY ALL) (1790) Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
CARMEN (1875) Composer: Georges Bizet

A Time to Every Purpose Under Heaven: A Series of Announcements

Happy New Year to everyone who follows or otherwise reads Make Lists, Not War.  I am thrilled to see that people from around the world have been checking out the lists on this site – every year the numbers grow.  I particularly appreciate the comments and suggestions by some of the readers.

1.  In  this blog post, I have three announcements.  The first is that 2015 was the best year so far for Make Lists, Not War since I began blogging in 2013. To give you a sense of the level of activity this year, here are some statistics, courtesy of the diligent folks at WordPress:

Total Views (2015): 60,095
Total Viewers (2015): 35,859

Top Ten Most Popular Lists (with links):
(1) Best Works of Art of All Time – The Critics’ Picks, Part 2
(2)  Art History 101 – Part 1: Prehistoric Era – 1399 CE
(3) Best Operas of All Time – The Critics’ Picks
(4) Best Architecture of All Time – The Critics’ Picks
(5) Best Inventions of All Time – Chronological: Part II
(6) Best Works of Art of All Time – The Critics’ Picks, Part 1
(7) Best Inventions of All Time – Chronological: Part III
(8) Best Inventions of All Time – Chronological: Part I
(9) Best World Music of All Time – The Critics’ Picks
(10) Best Photography of All Time – The Critics’ Picks

Viewers’ Top 10 Countries of Origin:
(1) United States (29,011 views)
(2) United Kingdom (3,986)
(3) Canada (2,633)
(4) Germany (1,823)
(5) Australia (1,597)
(6) France (1,578)
(7) India (1,237)
(8) Italy (949)
(9) Netherlands (835)
(10) Spain (830)

Top 10 Search Terms
(1) “best operas”
(2) “greatest operas”
(3) “100 great short stories”
(4) “best operas of all time”
(5) “greatest works of art”
(6) “greatest paintings of all time”
(7) “best world music albums”
(8) “greatest architects of all time”
(9) “alfred stieglitz flatiron building 1903 photo reproduction”
(10) “greatest architecture of all time”

2.  My next announcement is to introduce five new lists (actually, two two-part lists and one one-part list).  Although I had already taken the Best Literature list and organized it by author, I had not made a list of Best Authors.  Similarly, I had taken the Best Classical Music list and organized it by composer, but I hadn’t made a list of the Best Composers.  I have now filled those gaps in the list-verse.  In both cases, I collected lists of the best authors/best composers and combined them into meta-lists.  I then made lists of each author/composer on more than two (for authors) or three (for composers) original source lists.  In addition, I made a list of each author’s most highly-regarded literary works and for the composers, I made lists of their most highly-regarded music compositions. In the case of the writers, there is a two-part list organized chronologically by author’s date of birth.  In the case of composers, there is a list organized chronologically by date of birth and a two-part list organized by rank (i.e., starting with the composer on the most lists).  The results of these projects can be found by following the links below:

The Best Writers and their Best Works, Part 1: 850 BCE – 1870
The Best Writers and their Best Works, Part 2: 1871-Present

The Best Classical Composers and their Best Works, Ranked: Part 1
The Best Classical Composers and their Best Works, Ranked: Part 2
The Best Classical Composers and their Best Works: Chronological

3.  My third announcement will be mostly of interest to my wife and others who know me personally.  While I am devoted to the blog, and have a number of projects in the wings (more pictures! more descriptive/analytical essays!), it is a time-consuming labor of love that sometimes saps time and energy from other necessary activities and pursuits.  After researching and creating over 160 lists that will remain fully accessible to viewers around most of the globe, I feel comfortable taking a hiatus from Make Lists, Not War for a significant portion of 2016, after which I hope to return with renewed vigor.  Until then, please enjoy these lists and remember to Make Lists, Not War.

John B.

The Joy of Shuffling (Music) and the End of Sameness

Imaginary Interviewer: So, is there any kind of music you don’t like?
Me: Yes.  I don’t like the same music.
Imaginary Interviewer: The same as what?
Me: The same as the music that was just on.

There was a time in my life when I listened to albums (and, later, CDs) from beginning to end. Many albums in the 1960s and 1970s were composed, not of a few singles and a bunch of filler, which had been the standard formula since the LP arrived in the mid-1950s, but of a through-composed artwork, in which songs were arranged in a particular order for an artistic reason. The artist meant the listener to hear Side A, Track 3 right after Side A, Track 2 and right before Side A, Track 4 – to hear the songs out of the context of the album was to miss part of the experience.  But that phase did not last.  Whether it was the times that were a-changin’, or whether it was me, as I reached my mid-20s in the 1980s, I found that listening to an entire recording of a single artist was something I did less and less.

It may have started with the technology.  I didn’t bring a turntable to college – just a tape player. This meant I had to record albums onto tapes to bring with me.  I found that I had room at the ends of the tapes after taping an album, so I would throw on a few songs from another album. When I only wanted to hear a few songs from certain albums, I would combine them onto one tape.  Then during college, I began putting together tapes for events – background music for the breaks during a concert, or a dance tape for a party.  I recalled the mixes of music that my favorite bands would play over the PA system before a concert.  But more than anything, I remembered the joy of radio.

Some of my best childhood memories are of sitting in my parents’ station wagon in the 60s and 70s, driving to some relative’s house, and listening to the music on the radio.  When I was growing up, my parents listened to WNEW-AM, a New York station that played adult popular music – I remember hearing lots of Frank Sinatra (referred to reverently as “The Chairman of the Board”), Dionne Warwick singing Bacharach tunes, country crossover hits like Ode to Billie Joe and I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, and even Spike Jones’ Gunga Din parody.  What I loved about listening to DJs like Jonathan Schwartz and William B. Williams was that I never knew what was coming next.  Sure, I suppose occasionally they would try that DJ trick – “Coming up, [Insert Name of Hit Song Here]”, then cut to commercial – but most of the time, one song would follow another, and I was surprised.  Once I had my own radio, I switched over to the FM rock stations, first WPLJ and then the more eclectic and intellectual WNEW-FM, where I also got to hear Jonathan Schwartz, along with Vin Scelsa, Allison Steele and others.  There was something magical about finding a radio station that shared my tastes in music, where the DJs picked out the songs in a way that made absolute sense but was completely unexpected. Except for those rare occasions when WNEW-FM DJs would play an entire album, or album side, the measuring unit was not the album but the song.

As I grew older and my musical interests and collection began to grow, I could no longer find a radio station that reflected my musical tastes.  But my love for the radio format (without the ads, of course) meant I rarely had the patience to listen to multiple songs by the same artist.  For one thing, I didn’t have the time.  For another, I found that there were certain artists and types of music that I appreciated more as one element in a patchwork quilt than a monoculture.  As much as I love old blues artists like Charley Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, or Memphis Minnie, after a song or two, I am ready to move on to other sounds.  The same goes for many of the artists in the catch-all genre known as world music.  As I began to teach myself about classical, jazz, blues, country, hip hop, world and other unfamiliar genres, I found that I often appreciated the songs more when they were placed in unfamiliar surroundings.  Listening to 18 Charlie Parker tracks in succession may be a mind-blowing experience, but if the individual tracks stand out at all, it is as part of the whole.  Listening to a Charlie Parker track after a Modest Mouse track, a James Brown track or a Philip Glass track, on the other hand, places the bebop in high relief – the contrast adds to the experience.  The surprise of the unexpected sound, the act of recognizing it for what it is, and then listening closely, are all part of the experience I treasure.

My devotion to mix and match began in the era of CDs and tapes – I would select songs from various CDs – pulling favorite tracks from all my Elvis Costello CDs to make a personal greatest hits, or mixing various artists to create an alternative country mix, or a mix of sad, slow songs. Then, to up the ante, I began experimenting with aleatory techniques, inspired by John Cage – I would select every 7th CD from my shelves and record the 7th track, for example. Or I would select a song title beginning with the letter A, then B, etc.  I was fascinated and often amused by the juxtapositions such methods created.  Unintended thematic continuities would crop up from time to time.  At other times, it became a random tour through my music collection.  The problem, of course, was that, after a few listens, even a randomly-organized CD eventually became predictable – I knew that after the Astor Piazzolla tango came the Andrew Bird, then the Fats Waller, etc.

When the digital revolution arrived, I transferred my methods to the computer.  After uploading over 2000 CDs into my iTunes library, I began to make mixed CDs on various themes, including a fair number of random mixes.  Smart Playlist allowed me to create mixes that eliminated certain genres, so I created many mix CDS under the headings of “No Classical”, “No Classical, No Jazz” and “No Classical, No Jazz, No Blues.”  iTunes introduced the “Shuffle” function, which randomized my music collection without any tricky aleatory techniques (although I sometimes question the algorithm when two songs of the same artist or genre play after one another).

The introduction of the iPod made the shuffle function portable.  Now I could listen to my entire music collection on a random search – I never knew what song was coming next, but I knew it would be something I would appreciate because it was part of the music collection I had created.  This lasted for a few years until my music collection inevitably expanded beyond the iPod’s capacity – of the 25,000+ songs currently in my iTunes library, fewer than 16,000 fit on my 80 gigabyte iPod, requiring me to trim most of the classical and jazz from the mobile collection.  If I want a truly random shuffle of my collection, I have to listen to it at my desktop at home.  Still, the 15,964 songs on my iPod provide me with an enormous number of surprises.  On those rare occasions when I take the car to work, I hook up my iPod and the traffic jams vanish as I listen to my perfect radio station – it has no commercials, it has my music collection, and I never know what’s coming next.

To give you a glimpse at the soundtracks for my commutes, here are the results of my last few iPod shuffles:
O’ Sailor – Fiona Apple
Turtles – Flying Lotus
Do What You Have to Do – Sarah McLachlan
Fio Maravilha – Jorge Ben & Toquinho
Last Call – Kanye West
Elks Parade – Bobby Sherwood
Upswing – Dave Holland Big Band
Come As You Are (live) – Nirvana
Diamond Dogs – David Bowie
Hits of Sunshine (For Allen Ginsberg) – Sonic Youth
The Streets of Laredo – Johnny Cash
Submission – Sex Pistols
I’ve Been Working – Van Morrison
Forever Yours – Carl Perkins
Say Hello to Angels – Interpol
Race for the Prize – The Flaming Lips
Slippin’ Around with You – Dan Penn
Paperback Writer – The Beatles
The Circle Game – Joni Mitchell
We Live Again – Beck
I Think I’m Down – The Harbinger Complex
Change Is Now – The Byrds
A Million Days – Prince
Young Love – Sonny James
Vaya Nina – Machito & His Afro-Cubans
What’s the Buzz/Strange Thing Mystifying – Jesus Christ Superstar Soundtrack
Man Called Uncle – Elvis Costello
Yellow Sun – The Raconteurs
All I See – Linda Thompson
Cottonbelt – Lone Justice
Eddie’s Ragga – Spoon
Slipped – The National
Thin Man – Suzanne Vega
Little Sisters of Beijing – These Are Powers
Lots of Drops of Brandy – The Chieftains
Lifted by Love – k.d. lang
Julia Brightly – Caribou
Soma – The Strokes
Rhythm of the Pouring Rain – Vince Gill
Turn on Your Love Light – Bobby “Blue” Bland
I’m Not Talking – The Yardbirds
When Will We Be Married? – The Waterboys
You Still Believe in Me – The Beach Boys
Grow Slowly – Sibling Rivalry
(I Know) I’m Losing You – Rod Stewart
Blue Bayou – Roy Orbison
In Love with You – Erykah Badu
Complications – Steve Forbert
Agent Orange – Tori Amos
Rip This Joint – The Rolling Stones
String Quartet No. 5: Fifth Movement – Emerson String Quartet (Béla Bartók)
The Hardest Part – Coldplay
Foire Internationale – Orchestra Baobab
Bows + Arrows – The Walkmen
Tenderness – Deb Talan
Wasted – Letters to Cleo
The Voyage – The Moody Blues
Alabama – Neil Young
Don’t Get Excited – Graham Parker & the Rumour
If You Call – Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
The World is Waiting for the Sunrise – Coleman Hawkins

 

 

The Moombahcore Problem, or Have We Gone Category-Mad?

Humans have an innate need to put things in boxes. My guess is that the first two categories were: (1) Things that are Me and (2) Things that are Not Me. It may have progressed to (1) People; (2) Animals; (3) Plants and (4) Inanimate Objects. Then we probably began subdividing. People became: (1) People from My Cave and (2) People from Other Caves. Animals became: (1) Animals I Eat and (2) Animals that Eat Me. Plants subdivided into: (1) Plants that Taste Good and (2) Plants That Make Me Sick. This categorization habit, which appears to be hard-wired into our brains by evolution, has served us well. It allows us to make decisions quickly by simplifying complex sets of facts. On the other hand, it is probably the source of much violence, cruelty and prejudice, because sometimes when you oversimplify, you miss the point.

At some point, the first art critics and theorists began to separate the various works of human creativity into categories. At first, I imagine, they distinguished among works of architecture, decorative art, literature, performance (including dance and theater), sculpture, painting and music. Over time, the critics and academics developed categories for styles, which could cross boundaries. A medieval mosaic could be made in the Carolingian style, as could a statue, a church or an illuminated manuscript. The term ‘post-modern’ could apply to a skyscraper, a novel, a piece of performance art or a piece of music. New styles developed for many reasons: changes in geography, economics, technology, government or religious belief, for example. Sometimes artists sought to distinguish themselves from what came before by doing something entirely new; sometimes they sought to reinterpret some beloved past time. Some artists sought to be different for difference’s sake; others felt that there was nothing new under the sun and the only legitimate option was to pastiche prior styles. All the while, the audience – particularly the critics and theorists – were putting names to the new styles, creating ever-more categories, to the point where now the proliferation of categories is overwhelming.

To better understand the categorization of the arts, an analogy from the biological sciences may be useful. Taxonomists in biology – those scientists who determine the nature of living species and the organization of those species and their relationship to each other – are generally categorized themselves into lumpers and splitters. Since every species contains variation within it, one of the jobs of the science of systematics is to decide when the variation is merely intra-species and when it is significant and meaningful enough to designate a separate species. (We won’t even discuss subspecies, varieties, etc.) A lumper is someone who sees two species that are very similar and decides that they really constitute just one species. A splitter sees one species with significant variation and decides it really should be divided into two (or more) species. Over the years, the lumpers have won some, and the splitters have won some.

From what I can tell, most (if not all) art critics and theorists are splitters. They are never happy with one category when they can have two (or twenty-two). The proliferation of categories seems to have reached a point of overload in the case of music. When I first made my music lists for Make Lists, Not War, I chose five categories: (1) Classical; (2) Jazz; (3) Blues; (4) World; and (5) Everything Else (pop, rock, country, hip hop/rap, folk, electronica, rhythm & blues, soul, funk, etc.). Naively, I thought that was enough. (I realize the World Music category is suspect – I am willing to listen to any reasonable alternatives.) But I have had some complaints from readers about the lack of this or that music category, so I decided to figure out whether to add any more. The problem is not where to begin, but how to stop. Take electronic music, for example. The Wikipedia page “List of Electronic Music Genres” contains approximately 180 different styles of electronic music, some of which are also considered classical music. There is a style called ‘trance music’ that has 11 sub-styles (one of these sub-styles, Psychedelic Trance, has its own sub-style, Suomisaundi). Of the 29 sub-styles of “House Music”, one of them – “Electro House” – has five sub-sub-styles, one of which is Moombahton, which has a sub-sub-sub-style called “Moombahcore.” The website musicgenreslist.com lists 41 “top genres”: Alternative, Anime, Blues, Children’s Music, Classical, Comedy, Commercial, Country, Dance, Disney, Easy Listening, Electronic, Enka, French Pop, German Folk, German Pop, Fitness & Workout, Hip-Hop/Rap, Holiday, Indie Pop, Industrial, Inspirational – Christian & Gospel, Instrumental, J-Pop, Jazz, K-Pop, Karaoke, Kayokyoku, Latin, New Age, Opera, Pop, R&B/Soul, Reggae, Rock, Singer/Songwriter, Soundtrack, Spoken Word, Tex-Mex / Tejano, Vocal, World.  Each top genre has a number of sub-genres.

If anything, the website’s list shows the difficulty involved in categorization. Anime seems like more of a visual arts style than a music style, while Comedy and Spoken Word are not music at all. Folk is not included except as a sub-genre under Singer/Songwriter, which seems strange since so much of true folk music consists of ballads and public domain songs that have been sung for generations. Why is Opera a separate “top genre” and not a sub-genre of Classical? Why aren’t various kinds of “Pop” music (Indie Pop, French and German Pop, J-Pop, K-Pop) listed under “Pop.”? Or, why not include the German, French, Japanese and Korean music under World? Why not put Tex-Mex/Tejano under Latin? (Or Latin under World, for that matter?) Is Alternative really a genre? Alternative what? Shouldn’t there be a noun with that adjective?  I could go on, but I won’t.  I’m actually impressed that the folks at Music Genres List took on the project, and I don’t want to discourage them.

All this talk about categories brings me to my latest music lists. I have decided to take the plunge and create some “Best of” lists for additional music genres, specifically Hip-Hop/Rap and Country. I don’t know how far I’ll go with this, but I can guarantee I won’t be doing a “Best of Moombahcore” list anytime soon.  The links are below:

Best Country Songs of All Time
Best Country Music Albums of All Time

Best Hip-Hop and Rap Songs of All Time
Best Hip-Hop and Rap Albums of All Time

It’s About Time: The Timelines of Human History

A timeline is a sort of chronological list and so it is fitting that Make Lists, Not War should include some timelines.  I’ve already published a timetable of scientific discovery, so now I’ve created a much larger set of timetables covering human history, beginning with our hominid ancestors 6.5 million years ago and concluding (for now) with 2014 in the Common Era (CE).  I’ve included scads of photos and maps, and tried to reduce the text to a minimum.  Where there are multiple items with the same date, I have followed a rough hierarchy, as follows:

Climate/Natural Disasters
World Population
Political Events
Religious Events
Cultural Events (incl. sports)
Scientific Discoveries
Exploration
Inventions
Architecture
Sculpture
Painting & Other Visual Arts
Literature: (1) Non-fiction, (2) Fiction/Poetry
Music: (1) Classical; (2) Jazz; (3) Other
Film
Photography
Deaths
Births

I realize that some (perhaps most) historians would find these timelines anathema to the true study of history, and I would have to agree, to some extent.  Anyone familiar with the study of history will tell you that the days of memorizing names and dates are long gone.  This is the time of understanding causes and movements, even going so far as to analyze the various ways in which scholars have studied particular historical events or trends over time.  Concepts, ideas, meaning and purpose are the substance of today’s history, not who invented this and which general won what battle.

But I suspect even the most up-to-date historian or history teacher would admit that a few facts now and then can anchor those theories and movements to real people at real times.  A concept or an idea, after all, must be thought of by a mind of a specific person who must communicate it or act it out.  It is true that a list of events without a deeper context lacks the threads of the narratives that carry them from person to event to person, etc. (e.g., there is no timeline event labeled “nationalism”, “humanism”, or even “Industrial Revolution”).  Should I hit  the delete button, then?  Is publishing these timelines going to do more harm than good?  I somehow doubt it.  To me, they constitute a treasure chest of interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing facts about human history, with the political events of the day set alongside scientific and technological achievements, the great works of art and literature and various aspects of culture (from sports to gay rights to the labor movement).  The timelines have rekindled a passion for history; instead of sending me back to the “just the facts” mode of  studying history, these lists have made me want to read more about the deeper narratives that weave these disparate facts together.  I hope they do the same for you.

Timeline of Human History I: Prehistory-1499
Timeline of Human History II: 1500-1799
Timeline of Human History III: 1800-1899
Timeline of Human History IV: 1900-2014

The Best of 2014: Your Meta-Lists Have Arrived

When historians look back on 2014, they will probably remember it for one event: Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine and annexation of the Crimea.  Putin’s action hearkened back to a long line of precedent of unilateral annexation by such power-mongers and empire builders as Cyrus the Great of Persia, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Tughril Beg, Ivan the Terrible, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and so many more. But for those who follow pop culture, the highlights of the year involved names like: FKA Twigs, Taylor Swift, Perfume Genius, Flying Lotus, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Anthony Doerr, Leslie Jamison and Marilynne Robinson.

Here are the meta-lists of the best movies, music and books of 2014, as determined by a critical consensus.

Best Films of 2014
Best Books of 2014
Best Music of 2014