Link Roundup: July 2019

It’s time for my monthly link roundup.  Some of these, by the way, are taken directly from Skepchick’s newly returned Quickies feature.  The Skepchick team sure knows how to find the links.

The Unbearable Irrelevance of Contemporary Music (video) – So, I’m one of those extremely rare people with a marginal interest in contemporary classical music despite having no connection to the academic music world.  What can I say, I like avant-garde, drone, and xenharmonic music, and contemporary classical is one of the places you can find such things.  All the same, contemporary classical is the most frustrating genre.  We’re not just talking inaccessibility in terms of the music itself (although there’s that), but also recordings are literally inaccessible, and discovery mechanisms are absent.  Ask me in the comments and I’ll rant further.

In my humble opinion, as a former academic in a different field, this is a failure of the academic organizations.  I don’t really know how music departments operate, but they have clearly never placed enough value on outreach.

The war to free science – Holy shit, I hadn’t realized that the University of California system stopped paying for Elsevier access.  That’s a huge deal, Elsevier owned a large fraction of articles that I accessed in my own academic career.  Elsevier basically has a monopoly on a very inelastic good.  I looked into it and apparently academics can still access most Elsevier articles, they just can’t digitally access articles published in 2019.

Supreme Court Says Constitution Does Not Bar Partisan Gerrymandering (NYT) – Like the title says, The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of all partisan gerrymandering.  This is absurd, disenfranchisement on a massive scale.

The Anita Sarkeesian story – It’s a long biopic of Anita Sarkeesian, the kind that we could only get many years after her Tropes vs Women in Video Games series.  One thing I had not realized was that the first season (which featured longer episodes) was the product of a collaboration between her and Jonathan McIntosh (aka the Pop Culture Detective), and they parted ways in the second season.  Personally I liked the first season better, but the punchier style of the second season also has its appeal.

Gay Fanfiction (video) – Sarah articulately discusses some of the reasons why so much fanfiction is based on m/m pairings.  One commonly cited explanation, is that fanfic writers are predominantly straight women who are attracted to men, but this is not entirely true.  AO3 surveys have shown that a lot of fanfic writers are LGBTQ+.  For further (or shorter) reading, you might be interested in this 2013 discussion of why M/M is disproportionately represented, and why F/F pairings are so rare.

LGBTQ Rights Still Have a Long Way to Go – This is Tris Mamone’s rebuttal to a recent article in The Atlantic arguing that the struggle for gay rights is over.  Tris is too kind.  The Atlantic article is a combination of crass minimization of the challenges to gay rights, and a crass dismissal of (and active bigotry against) all other LGBTQ groups.  Dude, it’s okay to observe that things have gotten better, but that doesn’t justify the rest of this garbage.

I find it funny how the Atlantic article is just so puzzled by the presence of a workshop about asexuality in the National LGBTQ Taskforce conference.  He obviously didn’t attend the workshop, or he’d know why it was there.  Queer conferences have always covered a range of topics, and not just marriage equality.  Asexuality workshops have been in that conference since 2012 (I was a panelist in 2013), years before same-sex marriage was legalized in the US in 2015.  I have to conclude that this guy had never been to a queer conference before, he’s just mystified by the most basic observations.


  1. sciatrix says

    Yeah, the Elsevier war from the UC system is really flaring pretty hotly. I have a collaboration with two folks at UC Berkeley right now, and this thing comes up occasionally as we check the lit for articles. General opinion seems to be “yeah, fuck Elsevier, go UC system” with a side order of grumbling when things are a little more difficult to get to. I think most people who are impacted by articles under Elsevier restriction just either ask friends at other institutions for copies, check Sci-Hub or ResearchGate, or ask authors for copies in pretty much that order.

    The UC system is also refusing to fund researcher travel to ten states under California AB 1887 for LGBTQ-rights-related issues, particularly trans bathroom bills. (The states are Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas.) I just joined the grad student advisory council for one of my societies, and we have a Georgia-hosted conference coming up in a few years that will probably not see many UC participants for that reason, which is a shame–it’s going to be hosted by my alma mater’s city, and I’m kind of looking forward to that meeting. Mind you, it’s going to be particularly tricky to ensure folks’ safety with the abortion bans in particular–I know that people are very concerned about that recent state law (for good reason) and our meeting is going to need to figure out wtf to do about that, since we’d already settled on the venue city when that law was passed.

  2. milu says

    Yeeeeesss please go on ranting about contemporary classical music!
    for starters can we call it CCM, a hip acronym is always a good start, yeah?
    For my part, though i don’t listen to CCM all that much, i was first exposed to it by the absolutely amazing though now-quasi-defunct Avant-Garde Project, as well as the less beginner-friendly Ubu Web, where I discovered fascinating (though by now hardly contemporary anymore) composers such as Morton Subotnick, Harry Partch, Pierre Schaeffer…
    What I think of as a more common portal to CCM for the general public such as me (I’ve also never studied music, or entered academia in any field) is through the mediation of pop artists such as Radiohead, The Who, or as David Bruce mentions The Beatles. Surely devoted listeners of thoughtful pop musicians eventually get curious about their more obscure inspirations and end up experiencing CCM for themselves…?
    Also Bruce’s point about how arthouse movies and modern art draw crowds whereas CCM doesn’t feels somewhat shallow, but only in the sense that any issue covered in a 7′ video necessarily is; it begs more questions than it can hope to answer. For instance, I’m suspicious of comparing the sort of movies he mentions (which I view as still overwhelmingly conventional formally) with CCM, but maybe that’s because I’ve myself formed a distorted view of CCM as essentially defined by its very hermeticism and relentless formal experimentation. Still, i take the point as I can think of much weirder movies that still get semi-widely distributed.
    Another objection that comes to mind, is how the category of CCM itself might have come to be tautologically defined as academic, leaving out a lot of boundary-pushing music in more “popular”-coded genres such as punk, rock, pop and electronica. I get the feeling— probably misinformed, I’d love to see it corrected— that CCM rarely taps into some of the more visceral emotions I often find myself craving together with the brain-tingle of thoughtful and pioneering composition and interpretation. John Zorn comes to mind as an example of a composer who seems to straddle that fence, but seeing as, as far as I can tell, he pours as much of his creativity and anticonformism into his hardcore noise-punk work as into his quote-unquote “classical” or “experimental” work, who said there was a fence to be straddled there in the first place?
    As a sidenote, I cannot help but notice that all the musicians I’ve name-dropped in this post are white males. Well, well.

  3. milu says

    Also, @sciatrix, I guess I don’t get what safety issues you mean regarding sending people to a Georgia conference, do you actually mean the abortion ban itself might constitute a personal security hazard (as in, a participant urgently requiring an abortion during that time? How long does a conference last??) or do you mean that the general political climate might be unwelcoming. I’m emphatically not trying to downplay the terrible physical and mental health consequences that the Alabama ban and other states’ restrictions are sure to have on the uterus-havers of these states. FWIW my position is no conditions, no time limit, no charge. I’m only confused as to how it might directly impact conference attendees who might be staying in the state for a week or so.

  4. sciatrix says

    @milu: Folks on our graduate student advisory council are emphatically concerned that during the conference itself (generally ~7 days) someone might have a miscarriage and be prosecuted under the law for contracting an abortion. While that’s very much an absolute worst case scenario, we’re also representing early career folks who are often working on a very tight shoestring budget and who are often at the point in their lives when people start having kids, so it’s something on the GSAC’s mind. Better to be prepared if something goes really wrong at a conference before there’s an issue than to be blindsided.

    The general political climate is also something in folks’ minds, and it’s something I tend to be less sensitive to as a queer person who has spent her entire adult and adolescent life in red states–Kansas, Georgia, Texas–albeit often in blue enclaves within those states, which Athens (the 2021 host of our conference) is. I’m less afraid of grappling with these things because I’m cheerfully aware of the class privilege (and often, racial privilege) that protects me and other academics from the full extent of these laws, especially as a visitor.

    But I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing to makes states pay for the fear they engender in out-of-state and even international visitors, and as someone in a red state I think these initiatives have actually provided a powerful tool to moderate red-state state governments–for example, the Texan bathroom bill wasn’t directly killed by progressives concerned about trans people, but by a pro-business Republican Speaker of the House who staked his Speakership and career on killing it because he feared that it would ruin Texan business initiatives, and who had the power to hold the Texas House Republicans in line to kill it without allowing it to pass in the House. (It started in the Senate.) And from that perspective, I think that honoring and making space for the fear of folks from more blue states visiting redder ones, and honoring California’s desire to not put money into states with regressive state governments, is a really good initiative whether or not those fears are really likely to be realized.

    Does that make sense?

  5. says

    @sci #1,

    General opinion seems to be “yeah, fuck Elsevier, go UC system” with a side order of grumbling when things are a little more difficult to get to.

    Yeah, that would be my reaction too if I were still in academia.

  6. says

    @milu #2,
    My main method of CCM discovery is Wikipedia. It often has a list of compositions, notable works, related composers, and musical style. It’s adequate, if you know what composers to look up in the first place.

    The first thing I would rant about is CCM’s failure on every level to grapple with the recording arts. It’s all focused on concert performances, which have a very homogenous and aging audience. Recordings, if they’re made at all, are made during live performances, and sometimes they’re of very low quality, or they’re not available for sale.

    And even aside from that, it has a negative impact on the music itself. The way that people listen to recordings is different–where you can only listen to a concert once, a recording can be heard multiple times. When music is written for a single listen at a concert, it doesn’t succeed quite so well upon multiple listens. And since people who hear a single concert don’t necessarily hear any other music by the same composer, this disincentivizes innovation. Many CCM composers seem to hammer at the same idea over and over and over, in the same way that old comic books would repeat the same stories because they expected most readers would not have seen the last time the story was repeated.

    And for all the value that CCM places on innovation, they don’t seem to care about innovations in production techniques, and don’t care about production at all. I wish they would at least use a little volume compression.

    The second thing I would complain about, is that CCM is incoherent as a genre. I know that composers are squeamish about placing themselves into genres, but a major function of “genre” is to give people a means to sift through large amounts of content. If you like some music, you can check what genres it comes from, and look for other music in the same genre. One of the reasons early 20th century CCM is easier to explore than late 20th century is that there are many named styles like serialism or sonorism. I think there should be more effort to classify and describe CCM, instead of just expecting people to listen to stuff until they find what they like.

  7. assignedgothatbirth says

    “I wish they would at least use a little volume compression.” That might be the first time I’ve seen someone call for /more/ compression, lol.

    @milu “Another objection that comes to mind, is how the category of CCM itself might have come to be tautologically defined as academic, leaving out a lot of boundary-pushing music in more “popular”-coded genres such as punk, rock, pop and electronica.” I wonder how much of this is an “old guard” kind of thing- jazz has academizing over the past decade or so and seems to be more willing to look to place like hip hop for inspiration, but it looks like CCM isn’t really doing the same.

    “In my humble opinion, as a former academic in a different field, this is a failure of the academic organizations. I don’t really know how music departments operate, but they have clearly never. ” Like I said above, I think part of this may just be due to classical music as a genre refusing to change than just academia. Though I’m sure it also depends on the program – my department tends to be a lot better about working with other genres, including popular music. We’re also part of an engineering school though, so as part of that there’s a lot more focus on production, audio engineering and the like – a lot of graduates actually end up doing live sound or working in TV because of this. It probably helps that we’re very close to New York as well, which is probably one of the most diverse music scenes in the world.

  8. says

    “I wish they would at least use a little volume compression.” That might be the first time I’ve seen someone call for /more/ compression, lol.

    In a classical concert setting, you can hear the quiet parts of music. In any other environment, the quiet parts may as well be silent. Seriously, when I listen to classical music I’m always adjusting the volume, because the quiet parts are too quiet, and the loud parts too loud. I know that’s just how the music is written, but it’s 100% the most annoying feature about listening to classical and popular music side by side. Audiophiles who complain about audio compression are complaining about a pretty subtle loss in fidelity, and I’m complaining about literally not being able to hear the music.

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