Monthly Archives: October 2010

Books I Haven’t Read

So last night I started a Google Doc of all the novels that have won Hugo and Nebula Awards, with a column listing which of them I have already read.

The answer: very, very few. (I haven’t gotten the Nebulas in quite yet, but you can see/steal my spreadsheet here. It should update automatically as I finish the list.)

Part of me is embarrassed–how can I call myself a SF/fantasy fan when I haven’t read, say, any David Brin or Neil Gaiman or Connie Willis? (And that’s just the beginning.) And how does that affect how I see myself as a scholar in these areas?

But on the other hand, it’s got me thinking about the ways communities hold expectations of standard behavior and standard knowledge. My guess is that people feel this way in any kind of context: entry-level scholars feel like they don’t know as much as their professors and colleagues, who feel they don’t know as much as the big names of the field, who probably feel they don’t know as much as the other big names. Or, in my circle of friends I’m seen as the person who knows the most about Lost and won’t shut up about it, but compared to so many of the super-fans out there, I feel like I barely even qualify as a fan! (“You’ve seriously only watched Season 6 once?! Wash my feet, Hurley-bird!”) Call it reciprocal uncertainty, or reciprocal lower-ness.

(Yes, people sometimes/often perceive this correctly, and it does matter when people really, demonstrably know more than each other. But I’m talking more about perception of knowing-ness, whether it’s actual or not.)

So how does this reciprocal uncertainty affect communication situations, I wonder? When I’m listening to someone who knows more than me give a speech, how do I hear it differently than if I think I know more? What about when it’s a sermon, or a class, or even a musical recital, or watching someone play a video game? Which situations inspire me to respond with my own work, perhaps bouncing off of or remixing their stuff? When can I, when sharing bits of myself, most inspire creative response?

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Three Musical Thoughts

I’ve been better lately about keeping my Google Reader clean (especially since I learned all the keyboard shortcuts!), which means that I keep finding more and more that I want to write about for hours. Instead, here are three goodies I’ve been saving up, all posts elsewhere that touch on music:

1) Greg Sandow’s post “Wrong Family” has been haunting me since I read it: it’s a response to the Philadelphia Orchestra’s upcoming free concert, labeled “An evening of favorite classics for the whole family!” Greg astutely wonders “what kind of family they had in mind,” which cuts right to the throat of the classical/popular music split–at least the one in my psyche.

I mean, Finlandia is on the bill, which I tend to think of as mystical and revolutionary, political and beautiful, etc. etc. “But,” I’m now telling myself, “that’s how it was heard in, like, 1910. A hundred. Years. Ago.” There is groundbreaking stuff out there that today’s families would rather hear–but they’re not hearing it. I’m not hearing it.

(And I know what my arts management wife would say: we’re not hearing it because programming contemporary music is wildly expensive, both for the music rental and for the number of players often required.)

2) Speaking of music that today’s families would want to hear, there’s a short post over at Zelda Informer on “What Makes Game Theme Songs Memorable?” It’s a response to a video (that I admittedly didn’t watch entirely) that deals in part with the comparative worth of 8-bit, NES-style game music and contemporary stuff. But the most interesting line in this post refers to Zelda fans’ hope that the upcoming Zelda title on the Wii will have orchestrated music on par with what’s been done in the beautiful scores for the Super Mario Galaxy titles. The post author, Nathanial Rumphol-Janc, writes, “Also, if Nintendo doesn’t give Skyward Sword orchestrated music, I’ll be the guy heading the lynch mob outside of Nintendo’s headquarters in Japan.”

It’s interesting to see how music that’s actually been recorded from real, live orchestral instruments, as opposed to fancy computerized fakeries, holds such a cultural status for game music fans. Like, if it were 1989 and I were writing a science fiction story about video game music in 2010, I would describe the music as a complex utilization of everything that highly evolved computers could do. As it is, there seems to be a sense of, “Whew! Finally game music can sound like typical film music–you know, Braveheart and all that!”

Which I love and am unsatisfied with, all at the same time.

3) Some quotes are worth reading from an intriguing piece by Jesse Willis at one of my favorite audiobook sites, SFFaudio, called “I Hate Music.” These are especially interesting given my thinking on the rhetoric of music lately, given his claim that . . . well, you can just read it:

If it isn’t funny, isn’t literary, if it isn’t connected to some emotional or visual memory already in me, I just refuse . . . .

Even though I don’t “hate music,” I absolutely see his point here: we respond to things when they pique some sort of existing interest/memory/experience in us. That changes the nature of the communication event (yes, I just used a noun as an adjective–and liked it!) and suggests a rhetorical technique for music composers: to purposefully refer to the old (which we all know is done in pretty much all music anyway). Jesse just seems more aware of this natural occurrence than many of us would.

He ends with, “This is probably one of the reasons I’m so passionate about audiobooks.” Intriguing to me because of a personal experience: I’ve been listening my way through all of Orson Scott Card’s Ender and Bean books. I just finished Shadow of the Hegemon, which had the most elevator-ishly bad “between sections” music I’ve ever heard–so when a post on an audiobook blog mentioned hating music, I expected that he would write about hating audiobook filler music. That’s not what he discussed–*but* it still touched on my listening, because Card ends each of these books with friendly, exclusive-feeling afterwards in his own voice. And in these audio-only afterwards (afterwords?) he often says that hearing his books read aloud is the ideal way to experience them.

So: a composer of words who prefers aural delivery of those words, but whose work is also associated (in my mind) with lousy music delivery. Huh.

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