CBS and Censorship

The Online Beat: Exhibit A against media concentration

First CBS censors a show about Ronald Reagan under pressure from their Republican masters because it is “insufficiently flattering” to the former president. Then they block from being allowed to air a commercial during the Superbowl because the ad criticizes Bush’s policies. Meanwhile, they seek White House support for media consolidation, relaxing federal restrictions on how many local media outlets CBS’s parent company Viacom can own. It is obvious here to see where the motivation is for CBS to comply with Republican demands for what they do and do not put on the air. This is sadly just one of far too many recent cases (Fox, ClearChannel, etc.) where the core American value of free speech has been corrupted by the censorship and obfuscation of right-wing demagoguery.

Happy New Year

We played at a big Chinese New Year bash held by a number of local Taiwanese organizations last weekend. We did a couple of Taiwanese folk songs arranged for a string quintet (violin, viola, cello, bass, piano) and voices, and Yingwen had a couple more piano accompaniments for the choir. It all actually sounded really good, which was a nice surprise considering all our prior rehearsals were – “a bit off.” At the very end of the last choir piece, the string players went and held up these signs with various slogans generally in favor of Taiwanese sovereignty. (No R.O.C. red white and blue flags in that place – all green party here.) I was holding the sign that said “Gong Tou,” which refers to Taiwan’s referendum measure. Nope – no sublety here – this was a full blown political event. It was a lot of fun, and it felt great to show some support.

Watch my face

This morning I was listening to the Dvorak String Quintet Op. 77 and I remembered a kind of funny story. I’m writing it here so I don’t forget.

Eugene Lehner (of Kolisch Quartet and Boston Symphony fame) was my chamber music coach for this piece while I was at New England Conservatory. Mr. Lehner would get after us because we always seemed to sound a bit stiff. We were playing through the first movement at a coaching session and at one point he stopped us and said emphatically “All the notes you play are fine, but you need to play with tone!” He then said, “Here, watch my face,” and he proceeded to shake his jowls to and fro like an old bloodhound just after a dip in a pond. I remember in all too vivid detail the way the skin from his face and neck moved as if completely independent from the rest of his lower mandible. But what happened next was the most amazing part, and you would have had to have been there to appreciate it.

So then he picked up the first violinist’s instrument and tucked it under his chin and started to play. This violin I always thought had a very bright, tight, almost tinny sound. But when Mr. Lehner played it, this deep, gritty, gruff, rich, throaty sound appeared out of the space where he sat. It was not that Proper Classical Conservatory Training tone… no, it was pure Demon-Possessed Mad Gypsy Fiddle tone with Extra Goulash. What a sound. Dvorak, like so many other composers, is so much more fun when you play it with a dash of the Mad Gypsy(tm) flavor on top. I always look for this sound that he showed us that day. It’s so thick and hearty, you’ll wanna eat it with a fork. It was the unmistakable spot-on audio equivalent of his jowl-shaking demonstration.

Eugene Lehner passed away in 1997 at the age of 91. He had a pretty amazing career. Bartok himself had persuaded him to follow a music career after he had heard him perform at the age of thirteen, and Lehner then went on to play several premieres of Bartok’s works with the Kolisch Quartet. Koussevitsky hired Lehner to play in the Boston Symphony Orchestra without an audition, stating that he had heard him play in Germany fifteen years prior. When he was in his mid-eighties, he was still teaching punk-asses like me at the New England Conservatory about chamber music.

He told me he loved being able to coach a bass player, which I always thought was kind of neat since I knew he was usually busy with the more traditional bourgeoisie string quartets and elitist piano trios. (The bassist proletariat does not get as much representation in the body of chamber music repertoire as we would like…) Much of the style of the way I play (or wish I played) my bass is in some part due to my experience with Mr. Lehner in that chamber group. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to have known and learned from him.

Supercomputer on the cheap

Techweb: Customers Eye Virginia Tech’s Supercomputer Upgrade – Customers Eye Virginia Tech’s Supercomputer Upgrade – January 27, 2004

In recent rankings of the world’s supercomputers by the University of Tennessee, the Virginia Tech installation held third place, behind Japan’s $250 million Earth Simulator Center and Hewlett-Packard’s $215 million installation at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The most eye-popping feature of Virginia Tech’s “Big Mac” installation is its $7 million price tag.

Very cool – Now given the fact that there was probably a consideralble cost savings in using student labor most likely available to Virginia Tech for this operation, $7 million still seems to be quite impressive.