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Eine kleine opinion on Musik ….

People at Samizdata have gotten to discussing Bondiana–James Bondiana. The talk has turned to music. I’ve spent the whole afternoon, including time at the Library (a.k.a. YouTube) doing highly necessary research, writing a comment. But it would’ve hijacked the discussion completely, so you lucky Kitty Kounters are going to get it instead. (It is possible that some of this is a bit tongue-in-cheek. But which parts? And how deep is that cheek, anyway?)

The issue arises because people are (snark!) wasting time discussing which of the entirely forgettable “Bond Songs” is “best.” Hmph. :

In my earlier remark at Samizdata about the James Bond theme (Kitties: I love it!), I meant the ongoing movie theme music, not any of the “songs.” (Everybody can hate me now, but none of them comes close to the level of, say, the Wagner “Wesendonck Songs.”* Or of “Summertime” when sung “straight” and not tricked up to the point of vandalism–a great rarity, may I say, most vocalists and arrangers seeming to think they’re better composers than Gershwin. *frown* Or “Bali Ha’i” as sung by Muriel Smith in the movie–per Wikipedia, she is not credited. *nother frown*)

Below, the URL for Mr. Barry’s conducting of the Bond Theme as a stage performance. Not so hot–no where near edgy enough: very little “snap” (–or “punch” as dancers might, or might not, say: Think of the Ann Reinking’s “Everything Old is New Again” routine from the movie All That Jazz; Eleanor Powell had it too mostly–no one always has it–but “snap” has to do with sharp emphasis precisely placed on the precisely-correct beat…Kurt Browning had it on the ice after coaching by his wife, ballerina Sonja Rodriguez…. Photographers, the best ones, also recognize “snap” (the technique and artistic goal, not perhaps my term for it!): a small portion of the image brought out (“punched”) for extra attention. Ansel Adams really owes his reputation to his mastery of it–IMO *g*. –Well, combined with his grasp of each of his compositions as a whole.) “Snap” adds edge and power, because it uses ultra-high contrast borne of extreme precision to compel attention. Yet there’s a fine line, because if even slightly overdone it collapses into mere boring mannerism…. That’s why to be effective, Snap requires equal attention to its placement within the work as a whole–it’s the telling and compelling detail in the Big Picture.

The YouTube sound quality here is way too shrill. The bit I remember from the best sound track has a very rich, deep, smooth sound to it–along with the Snap….

Of course, this sort of “piece” is more of a starting idea for a concerto or a rhapsody, rather than a full-blown work of art. It’s still “popular music”–but at its best, light-years better than most. :>)))

Here’s the best example of “snap” that I can think of, off the top of my head. (Forget the images, they’re mostly an unfortunate distraction.) Again not the best sound quality, and the orchestral background particular in the last several seconds is a ghastly error, an attempted gilding of the lily that ends up as a refutation of all the music that’s gone before!, but the rest is perfect. Herb Alpert really did Get It! :>)))) **Applause**

Now there is lagniappe, in the way of what I think to be some purely beautiful music. Miss Schwarzkopf, accompanied by Gerald Moore, singing the first of the Wesendonck Songs…and this is not her best recording of them IMO (she is not always on pitch)…but beautiful even so.

–Next up in that playlist turns out to be Kirsten Flagstad singing “Solveig’s Song”–heh…I sang it myself once upon a time, when there was some talk of a future in opera–although not to Miss Flagstad’s standard! A recording I haven’t heard…glorious.

I leave you with Miss Callas’ rendition of “Pace,” in a perfectly glorious recording. Enjoy! (I listened to a rendition by Renata Tebaldi just before this one…and this one is better. *g*)


  1. Julie near Chicago says:

    There are a few copies of the Reinking routine on YouTube, but this one is good. (Terrible movie, though. And what Roy Scheider was doing in it beggars understanding. *g*)

  2. NickM says:

    Perhaps it is Jungian synchonicity but last night I watched X-Factor on the TV and it was beyond awful. It’s a talent show on ITV1 here that sets out to create Britain’s latest pop-star. It is moronic beyond belief. I only watch it sometimes to keep my swearing gear in full kilter. Alas my wife has to suffer the full tirade. And note Viz Comic * was mother’s milk to me. I thought Chesney Hawkes in the early ’90s was the scrapping of the barrel but the barrel is well out and they are now half way to New Zealand. So lovely to read a piece from a genuine music lover**.

    *Tag line, “It ought to be banned”.
    **Confession – I held back from listening to Sibelius’s Seventh as a kid because I knew it was his last and I wanted the expensive DG version with von Karajan (Jean Sibelius’ fave conductor).

  3. RAB says:

    Writing music for film used to be high art, but since Easy Rider what passes for music in films seems to be half a dozen of the current pop hits.

    This is, of course, one of the greatest music themes of all time. The variations on it used throughout the movie to highten tension or even the quiet reflective scenes. Bloody brilliant!

    The most intriguing use of music in a film I have seen was the Pink Floyd’s soundtrack for the film More (don’t bother with the film it’s dreadful) but every time music was used, it wasn’t layered over the action, it was an intergral part of the action, coming out of radios, high fis, juke boxes etc.

    We were in Italy on holiday a few years ago, and the Italians like a bit of Karaoki after dinner. My wife got up and said she was going to sing Summertime, but the DJ didn’t have the music. “That’s fine just give me the mike” said Ness. She did it accapella and brought the house down!

  4. NickM says:

    Listening to that again there are def Copland refs. Yes, that is great. For my sins the first LP I ever bought was John William’s Star Wars ST. I think Dolby is partially to blame. It encouraged folk to just PLAY IT LOUDER. Last movie I saw at the cinema was “Killing me Softly” and when Ray Liotta got kicked utterly shitless and jebus wept! They cranked it to 11. Hell, my teef nearly fell out!

    But this is the greatest ever…

    And Clint at the height of his powers. Any heterosexual woman or gay man who wouldn’t rip his poncho off…

    When I first heard this as a small kid I called it “cactus music”. That says something about “evocative”.

  5. Julie near Chicago says:

    Nick: Copland? Probably, but I heard Ferde Grofé! LOL Still, American music that at least borders on the Classical tradition is, may I say so, a trifle inbred…. I don’t include Gershwin in that, of course. He was his own man.

    RAB: I can well believe Ness brought the house down. I’d have loved hearing her myself. And “Summertime” is wonderful for a capella singing…the melody carries itself along so beautifully…is she a soprano? I used to sing it too. Alas, my voice is gone now. Nertz.

    Speaking of Elmer Bernstein, another favorite of mine is the music from “A Walk on the Wild Side.” It’s slight, I think, but it’s another one with punch.

    Y’all left out the theme from “Exodus”…and also, the Colonel Bogey March! (Really a little gem, I think, although I wouldn’t want to have to listen to it every day.)

    Nick–Your first comment above–I don’t know a single one of the names or references you mentioned. :>)))!!!

    Dolby and “Play it louder!”–…maybe…but it seems to me substitution of decibels for emotion in music predates Dolby and surround-sound and all that. It was certainly around in early rock & roll (back in my day–Chuck Berry and all that…not my cup of tea at all…certainly Elvis). And before that there was New Orleans Jazz, awful noisy.

    But think of the power in “Sweet Georgia Brown”–one that a lot of people actually seem to know how to play. I asked the piano player in a little buffet restaurant in Wisconsin to play it one time when we were the last ones there, and he got it just right. Another one is the “Limehouse Blues.” Or, think of Peggy Lee’s “Fever.” (Lots of Fevers out there, including Elvis’s, but I like Miss Lee’s by far the best.) Elvis–such an absolutely beautiful, gorgeous voice. Soft and deep as velvet, rich as cream. And what did he do with it?? !!!!! Oh well. He could sing when he really wanted to. “Love Me Tender” is kind of a boring piece, to me, but he sang it beautifully just the same. Unfortunately he definitely substituted noise for Snap.

    But then, my favorite rock & roll piece is still “Rock around the Clock”!! :>)))!!!

  6. NickM says:

    Serious favour requested. I’d like like to get my head round “snap” as a concept. Any examples from the ’70s/’80s/’90s would be helpful.

    And you are on dangerous ground here with “Rock around the clock” because RAB has already performed an evisceration on Bill and the Comets and he wote for NME and the bugger has interviewed my all-time musical goddess, the divine Ms Harry.

  7. Julie near Chicago says:


    Thanks for taking this seriously enough to care! I’ll try to come up with specifically musical examples for you…but in the meantime, there really is a very evident analogy in painting and photography. There you’d call it “punch” more than my “snap,” but it’s the same kind of thing. Dali does it (overdoes it!) sometimes, where he has nice normal daylight on everything as would be appropriate if it were a real scene, except–there’ll be one element that ALSO is in nice normal light except that that element is in a different reality somehow, a heightened reality, because there’s somehow more of the nice normal light there.

    But really, better examples are in photography, where there’s nothing subtle about it. It’s the difference between all those B&W photos of trees in the park, say, just bursting with springtime blossoms, and we see the pictures, and they’re beautiful. But then somebody shows us an infra-red photo of the same scene, and now you can see the PUNCH as those blossoms really stand out. (Of course, it’s not actually the blossoms that make for the effect–but we’re doing aesthetics here, not physics.) Now it happens that the field of photography has a term right in its lingo–the I-R photo is so dramatic, so PUNCHY, because it’s so contrasty. And if the high-contrast part is strictly and severely constrained to precisely the right area, then you get Punch, or Snap. (as, “the snick in the lock when someone turns the key.——OH!!! You’re a math-and-physics guy! I’m talking about what our kind call “the click of rightness” that we feel, FEEL, when we know we’ve got the proof we’re looking for, or have the right solution set for the equations, or whatever. You HAVE to know what I mean! We get lots of false positives, but if we don’t have that sensation, that click of rightness, we know we haven’t got the solution yet. Well, what I’m talking about in music also gives you the “click of rightness.”

    Back to aesthetics-speak: It’s about drama…and if you want my opinion, in some way it’s about sex. At least, that’s how it takes me, when we’re talking about music or dance at least. But really, it’s just about finding points of focus for drama in the art (whatever art form), and then presenting them with maximum drama–with PUNCH.

    As I say, I’ll try to find some pieces where I can point you to exactly the spots I mean. But in the meantime, if you relate to dance at all, that Ann Reinking number illustrates Snap! better than anything else I know. Her movents are absolutely precise. In a leg movement, say, her knee starts HERE and goes to precisely HERE, not a millimeter less nor more–and furthermore, it arrives precisely at time T, not T-epsilon nor T+epsilon–and it just so happens that time T is EXACTLY on the beat, neither ever-so-slightly ahead nor ever-so-slightly behind. It’s as if that knee had run into an invisible wall that made it stop NOW. The laws of momentum and inertia are hereby suspended!

    Oh, I can hear it in my head so clearly! Why can’t I just run off a quick hologram of the concept and send it to you!!

    As for “Rock Around the Clock,” I dearly love it–but I imagine that’s because it’s my coming-of-age piece. I never said it was great music, nor even great rock (which I wouldn’t know if it bit me on the tushie in any case). And I have no need to hear it more than about once every 30 years. But when you’re 13…. But even as a teenager I didn’t like most rock & roll, too noisy and way too simplistic. It seemed to me just mostly noise. Now the regular pop music of the day was different. I had a raft of favorites there, and I knew they weren’t really Great Music, but they made me feel young and gay and alive and ready to have adventures and to be In Love…that was their purpose, and they succeeded.

    Maybe I can come up with clearer examples tomorrow. :>)

  8. RAB says:

    Rock around the Clock? Rock around the frigging Clock!!! I’m going off this woman already lads. I thought we had just signed up a solid gold sane person to be a Kitty Kounter, but she is obviously as bonkers as the rest of us! :-)

    And the pop music of the day (this will be circa 1957 or so? ) Gahhh! You can’t mean Bobby Vee, Pat Boone, Andy Williams and gag… Perry Como can you? Please say it aint so!!!

    I’m with Louis Armstrong on music. There are are only two types… Good music and bad music, and it doesn’t matter what genre or category you choose.

    I also have very eclectic taste, from Classical to Folk, to Rock, pop, blues, Jazz and World, I can tell you who is the real McCoy and who the rip off merchants and second rate are.

    Since seeing the Beatles live accidentally when I was 11, in 1963, I was hooked on music of all types. I went to every gig and festival I could possibly get to, so in the ensuing years I have seen live and talked to every band, rock, pop, reggae, blues, jazz and otherwise, any of you can possibly name, and a shedload of ones you’ve never heard of. I just love music, all of it!.

    Ness has a 4 octave range, perfect pitch and is a damn good pianist too. I was listening to her doodling and singing on the synthesiser as I read your comments above earlier today. Well yes she can’t quite get those top C’s anymore, but it is just bliss to have a live in, living juke box, and lover in the house. I am a very lucky man.

  9. NickM says:

    Got it. The dance thing was the point at which I really got it. I guess it’s like the scene towards the end of “Unforgiven”.

    You just believe the threat because it’s Clint and it works because it is Clint. I walk into a bar like that they’d laugh themselves silly but if it is Clint… When he says, “Anyone who doesn’t want to die better get out…” It works purely by the force of Clint. And why it works is Clint. It’s a great scene but it ought to be ludicrous but when Clint clears a bar you run like hell. I mean can you imagine anyone else getting away with that “…and burn your house down” line? But when Clint said it I almost ran out of the cinema!

  10. Julie near Chicago says:

    Now. I find myself mortally insulted by certain of Critic RAB’s allegations. These I cannot allow to go unchallenged, nor may the perp leave the field on horse. **En garde!**

    (And kindly don’t bring up any inconvenient issues about mixing either metaphors or playing fields. Or historical eras and customs, for that matter.)

    Of the crew you mention, I will say there was one–ONE–Pat Boone number of which I was mildly fond. (But he had a pleasant voice and at least did not insult the ears. At the time I thought he was OK, just not one of the ones who really got to me.) Don’t remember the first thing about that song, whatever it was, though, including its title and how it went.

    Other than that, I don’t do Crooners. You want to cast me to the outer darkness? That includes François du Sinistre–er–Sinatra. “Fly him to the moon”? Not bloody likely, as that’s FAR too close. Personally I relegate him to someplace BEYOND the Outer Darkness. And I’ll tell you why. He has a style that is slick slick slick and that feels purely insincere and phoney as a three-dollar bill to me. Mind you, that’s visceral. For all I know he deeply believed in the aesthetic rightness and value of his music as he sang it. It’s just that it makes me, personally, sick.

    I love the early Julie London. As time went on she adopted that slick, “polished” style…Sinatra’s, Steve Lawrence, that crowd…for me she ruined her music at that point. A great pity.

    Ahem. I did go for Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife.” Sue me.

    Well, sunuva! And here we have what might even be the Real Deal. At least the first half sounds right to me. In the second half, he’s getting into that awful crooner-swing-phoney-baloney Sinatra style (I know I know, Frankie made more $ singing than I ever will, chanting “Down with Frank! Down with Frank!” LOL). Two things:

    1. Nick: If you want musical examples of what I called “Snap,” Herb Alpert’s “A Taste of Honey is really good, and so is the first part of the present musical excursion. (I still hope to find the version of the James Bond theme that started this whole conversation, though.) Do you read music? If so, “extra punch” and a feeling of “attack!” is indicated by a carat over a note or chord. If, as a pianist playing on a real piano, you do it right, your muscles stiffen up slightly and the upshot is that, among other things, your tone is suddenly harder. Like hitting the keys with a log instead of richly padded fingers….

    By the way–I don’t know if I said–I got to calling it “Snap” because of that feeling of something clicking into place with an audible click/snick/snap–and lo, it fits perfectly! But “Punch” describes the effect I’m talking about too, only with a little different emphasis. Either way, in music the effect depends upon just the slightest motionless wait-for-it moment–and then the sound! Immediate, no buildup to it, it’s THERE and it’s LOUD (actually, it seems loud because of the contrast–even if it’s not so loud in absolute terms.) –Never mind–I’m sending this off now–because I FOUND IT! Coming up!

    2. RAB: I am trying your Embedding trick. Zounds, I become adventurous in my old age!

    So, if it works, Bobby Darin singing “Mack the Knife”:

    Heh…and if it doesn’t work,

    Suspenders and belt, that’s me. When I remember. *g*

  11. Julie near Chicago says:

    RAB, your Vanessa: She sounds AWESOME. And if to top it all off she’s also a fine pianist, I’d say you have a spectacular treasure there and would have even if she couldn’t cook a note! *g* (I remember the Cook’s [sic] Tour young Mr. Marks gave us, about the provender at RAB&Ness Towers.)

    My first and best love is the piano…and what I wanted most in the world was to be a truly fine pianist. (My folks were trained as professional musicians–dad was an operatic tenor and mother was an organist and pianist, at the start of a career as a concert organist until Life intervened. Music was in my blood from the cradle. Heh…well, given the science of genetics, probably from before the cradle.) But there are a lot of physical traits necessary for a high-class technique, and I don’t gots them. I’ll put my native musicality up against anybody’s, though, and I do mean *anybody’s.*

    In particular–is whatever you wrote about Mr. Haley and his celestial organization available on-line? I’d love to read it. It would never have occurred to me to take “Rock around the Clock” seriously enough to include it in an actual column of criticism.

    Heh…you & Olin Downs!

    And, oh–Who is “Ms. Harry”?

  12. Bod says:

    That’d be NickM’s Big Crush, Julie.
    Debbie Harry.

  13. Julie near Chicago says:

    Ah. Well, I was going to plead my status as a Provincial, but I see that Miss Harry is also from the Provences, so that won’t work. On a quick skimming of the Wikipedia article I did see one name I recognize–Duran Duran.

    And her movies include “Copland.” I actually saw that one! :>)

    My education proceedeth, if not exactly apace. Thanks, Bod.

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