Monthly Archives: March 2014

Music to Wander the World By…

Okay, so I’m working on my dissertation. And I have this way of wandering across a topic that will in the end maybe get two sentences in the finished paper but in the moment I get all worked up and start following it way farther than I need to.

Today I rediscovered the coolness that is “sound installations,” aural artworks in public places where the location and placement of the sound is integral to the piece itself…

My favorite, which I’ve known about for a while, is John Luther Adams’ “The Place Where You Go To Listen.” It’s in a room at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, where computers translate the seismic, meteorological, and geomagnetic data from various stations all over Alaska and present them as sound, in real time. That room is on my bucket list in spades. (Here’s an interesting article from the New Yorker about the Place…check it out!)

Then there’s Janet Cardiff’s “Forty Voice Motet,” wherein as far as I can tell you have 40 voices each recorded individually, played through 40 speakers placed all around the room (perhaps most famously in Fuentadeña Chapel in the Cloisters), each singing one on a part Thomas Tallis’s monumental Spem in Allium. The youtube clip is for reference; I’m sure the reality of the experience is nothing at all like this, especially since the camera doesn’t seem to move about the room.

Susan Philipsz. “Surround Me.” A series of sound installations all over London, with her own unaccompanied voice singing at different times from different speakers.

I spent a good bit of time with Susan’s stuff on Youtube; it’s lovely and peaceful and plaintive, and it’s just the kind of thing I enjoy; but listening to it like this is like looking at a thumbnail picture of the Sistine Chapel ceiling on my iphone, you know? I need to go to some of these places…

(There are tons more–Brian Eno, Maryanne Amacher, Max Neuhaus, so many…)

And one more:

Compsers Doing Normal S$*&tuff

This is sort of adorable. I love it. Check out Mahler doing yard work:



Naturally I managed to waste even more time poring through all 7 pages of these…but they are NEAT. Britten taking pictures. Varese drinking coffee. A bunch of guys petting their dogs. Caroline Shaw kayaking. Igor Stravinsky in an early 20th-century Speedo. (That one’s a little disturbing, to be honest.) Some of them look distinctly posed, but many are very cool.

I also found, in the process, a new blog and a new blogger, Allegra Martin in Boston. (I tried to comment on her site, but it wouldn’t go through, thanks to Blogger’s weirdness, so Allegra, if you find your way here through my link, hi!) It’s always fun to find another chick with a stick, you know?:-)

Okay, this is me stalling from grading papers and writing the dissertation, and I don’t want to break the Seinfeld Chain on only my second day, so I’ll stop blogging and get going…Enjoy these pictures, though!

The Seinfeld Chain

computer keyboardOkay, enough farting around. I’m spending too much time reading, note-taking, researching, and generally not writing. I need to start writing, actually getting words onto the screen.

So just as I’m beginning to come to this realization, I find a blogpost of Clarissa’s, talking about another writer’s creation of what he calls the “Seinfeld Chain.” It’s like what my daughter’s cello teacher calls “wipeout,” I think–you commit to writing every day, regardless of whether you feel like it or not. And you mark on a calendar every day you write, and if you miss a day, you go back to zero. The goal is to make the longest chain of days possible.

I never really watched Seinfeld; I thought watching unhappy people be sort of funny jerks to each other and become more and more miserable all the time to be sort of un-entertaining. So if anyone can tell me why this is a “Seinfeld chain” I’d appreciate it…

But I’m still going to do it. Day one, 3 pages. If I can write 3 pages a day, I’ll be at my required 100 in a fairly reasonable amount of time. If I can write more than 3, so much the better, and so soon the sooner. (Which makes no sense, but who cares?)

Okay, back to writing. Wish me luck.

Guilty. I confess. (BRILLIANT anti-powerpoint rant…in slideshow form)

I’ve done this too, I admit. (OMG, slide 22!).

Please, if you’ve ever presented at a conference or taught a class, you need to see this slideshow. It’s hysterical and, as is often the case with Rebecca Schuman’s work, absolutely on point.

The thing is, I find whenever I have to write on the board in a lecture setting, it slows me down so incredibly that I never get through my material–when I time my talks, I always tend to time them by how long it takes me to talk the talk, not how long it takes my atrophied and ill-accustomed-to-actual-handwriting little left hand to squeeze the words out and onto a board. But…then I fall into these traps. A lot of them, actually.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

The Job Cover Letter

Is it ever done? At what point do you say, “Okay, you freak, stop revising and just send the damn thing!!”?

Clearly, not yet.

The thing is, it gets better with each little piece of revision. I haven’t started cannibalizing it yet, and each little tweak gets it stronger.


By the way–some aspects of it may not apply as much to music jobs, but I have taken great inspiration and assistance from the Professor’s infamous blog post, “Why your Job Cover Letter Sucks (and what you can do to fix it).” I still have terminal list addiction, but I have successfully played some of it down, and de-adverbed most of it, and simplified where possible…definitely read the comments as well, they contain a pretty valuable number of caveats from other academics who say, “Nope, not in this field you wouldn’t do that” and so forth.

Are we there yet?

Will I eventually actually write the dissertation and stop farting around with job letters that say “I anticipate finishing my dissertation by such and such a date,” that date getting farther into the future with every job letter I send?

Another sigh. My brain hurts.

Anyone remember this? (Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”)

I can’t remember who first introduced me to this piece maybe 25-30 years ago…but it’s stuck with me. Then when I took Grad History Review (i.e. Doctoral Students Forced To Do Grout Again For Probably The Fourth Time Since We Were College Freshmen), this one came up from one of the composers in the group as an important work. And now, researching postmodernism, it comes up again in my reading.

It’s hypnotic stuff.

This led me to Spotify, to look at some of her more recent work, like Life on a String and Homeland. I’ve now got a spectacular playlist of her stuff, and I really like her a lot. She sits right on that cusp between/among all these different disciplines (“performance art” doesn’t really cut it as a category), and has her finger right on the pulse of the zeitgeist…I find her fascinating.

So…if you’re even remotely bored and looking for something new to listen to, check her out.

My sympathies wane.

I’ve posted in the past about the scary situation many hopeful profs find themselves in, and the unjust and generally awful adjunct system on which more and more colleges and universities seem to be running.

But then I read articles like this:

The Impermanent Adjunct

And I’m like, seriously, sweetheart? You got full time contractual employment in your field, which I assume means benefits and health care and the pleasant aside of being able to do your entire job at one location, and you’re bemoaning how you’re “contingent labor”? How at the end of the contract (which she does not specify–it may be year to year, but I know a number of schools use 3-5 year contracts for full time instructors/lecturers as well), there’s a possibility that it won’t be renewed?

How you must, every semester or year you work there, demonstrate yourself to be an asset to the department and someone it would be preferable to keep than to let go? How, if the department feels you’re not doing what you’re there to do, you could lose that job at the end of the contract?

Is there any field or job in any profession, other than tenured professor, where that is not the case?

I’m sorry, and I know there are very supportive comments below her article, but it seems to me that a school which a) pays its adjuncts $4000/class (!), b) gives them offices and allots them conference funds, and c) moves competent and established adjuncts up to full time lecturer work when it can, is a school doing it right. Or at least trying to.

Yes, I agree that the “free” service assignment thing is ridiculous, and if lecturers at her school are genuinely pressured to accept those assignments that’s completely unacceptable. (The one time this happened to me, when an adjuncting gig at the end of the spring semester was renewed for the fall contingent upon my taking on a large unpaid additional chunk of work, I resigned the job. I have never looked back, and my only regret was that I did not directly tell them that was why but pleaded “scheduling conflicts” instead. That was cowardly of me. I was much younger, but I still could have done better there.) The school that got its paperwork messed up and didn’t pay her–that’s their failure, not hers, and it’s a big failure and they should be ashamed. And that the culture of tenured-vs-nontenured can be hairy. But don’t think getting a tenured position magically makes departmental politics disappear.

There’s a bit of self-pity in this article. Maybe more than a bit.

She quit because she did not feel “fully secure.” (Hon, you don’t need that kind of security to succeed in life, or work as a scholar, or be happy.) Things didn’t go as she planned. One can be sad about it, or one can make new plans. That’s what most of us do, and unlike many, it sounds like she could do it from a place of financial stability and solid family support. So in that sense, I guess this “year off” thing is exactly what she needs.

I know she’s already gone from her job and may never get it back, but to anyone else in the same position I’d say this: if you like the work you do at that school as a full time contracted (“contingent”?) lecturer, if it challenges your mind and feeds the scholar side of you, keep the job. If you do not, make other plans, and do what you need to do to bring them to fruition. Hell, make the plans anyway, so you have something to set into motion if your fear that your current position will go away is ever realized. But if you make Feeling Absolutely Respected By Everyone And Never Treated Unfairly Ever a requirement for job satisfaction, I predict you will change jobs a lot in your future.

Welcome to the grownup world. Put on your big-girl boots and wade on in. You will be fine.