Friday Music Fun: Radar vs. Wolf

Lynne Kiesling

Some Friday fun listening from Nashville-based Radar vs. Wolf, a video from their debut album!

Radar vs. Wolf singer/songwriter James Bratton recently wrote a post on Bleeding Heart Libertarians articulating his particular take on political philosophy, and it’s a take I find congenial. Especially this part:

Why would I give them the legal power to regulate my whole life? And why would I claim for myself the power to regulate anyone else’s life?

… F.A. Hayek referred to such a mindset as “the pretense of knowledge.”

It is insanity for one person to put this kind of trust in another man or group of men, especially men who believe we exist solely in order to serve the “greater good.” Public choice theory and history have shown that “benevolent” men set above others are subject to the same faults and selfishness as the rest of us, regardless of the good intentions with which their offices were created.

That’s a pretty succinct articulation of my belief.

Happy Friday!

Music, harmony, and social cooperation

Lynne Kiesling

I am a big fan of English renaissance choral music, particularly sacred polyphony from Tallis and Byrd (and stretching back to Taverner, but he’s not as distinctively polyphonic). One of the best ensembles performing such music is Stile Antico, a group of 13 British singers who do an outstanding job with this music, and whose recordings I have recommended here before. Especially at this time of year, their music really resonates and adds joy and beauty to life.

A couple of weeks ago we got to hear Stile Antico perform live in Milwaukee: Thomas Tallis’ Puer Natus Est mass interspersed with pieces from Byrd, White, and Taverner. The music was gorgeous, the voices delightful, and the artists charming and gracious.

But what really struck me was their method of decentralized coordination. Typically when we think of musical performance beyond, say, a chamber quintet, coordination involves hierarchy in the form of a conductor, to “keep everyone on the same page”. The larger the number of performers doing different things, the harder to coordinate, and therefore the greater need for a conductor … right?

Not so in this case. 13 singers, each with a particular part, bringing a distinctive element to the work. But in some ways the music is simultaneously so lush and yet so spare that if their timing is off, the beauty of the result is diminished. 13 singers with no conductor, and they coordinate by taking their visual and verbal cues from each other in a dynamic and evolutionary manner. This is a vivid example of decentralized coordination.

Of course the goal is harmony (in the general sense). If each individual acts and reacts to the actions of the other individuals in a way that produces a harmonious outcome, that’s beauty. And it’s an emergent outcome; each has his or her own score and acts accordingly, adapting to the actions of the others in a way that creates emergent harmony.

The music metaphor illustrates achieving emergent order through decentralized coordination, and it’s a metaphor for social cooperation too. Adam Smith employs the harmony metaphor for social cooperation in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which he invokes harmony as a desirable outcome of social interaction repeatedly (and refers to the music metaphor directly in the last reference). Note the emphasis on harmony as distinct from uniformity — each individual brings personal, private, heterogeneous features to social interaction (whether musical or economic), and they are not the same, not uniform. Each has an incentive, a desire to coordinate, to harmonize; in music it’s finding the complementary notes, in social systems it’s grounded in our innate desire for sympathy and mutual sympathy, according to Smith. Each individual brings something different to the party/performance/market.  The most beautiful and sublime outcomes emerge when each acts on its individual traits with a view toward creating harmony and sympathy. And it does not necessarily require the top-down imposition of control or system-wide hierarchy, but can be achieved through decentralized coordination.

Of course there are limits to applying the music metaphor to institutional design and social cooperation, such as the scale/number of actors. But it reminds us of the possibility of cooperation and harmony through decentralized coordination, without the need for imposed system-level control.


First thoughts on Spotify

Lynne Kiesling

I’ve been playing with Spotify this week during its U.S. release, and so far I really like it. My British friends have been raving about it, so I was keen to check it out.

For music playing it combines some of the best features of iTunes and Pandora and Rhapsody — I can make playlists comprising my own music, music my friends have/have identified, or any music out there in the Spotify cloud catalog (which is large, broad, and deep). There are lots of resources on the web for finding new music, or creating automated playlists based on seeding with an artist’s name. For example, I love medieval-Renaissance-Tudor-pre-Enlightenment music, and it can be hard to sample such a large and diverse genre to find new music (although I recommend anything recorded by Stile Antico). I went to Spotiseek and entered “Thomas Tallis” as the artist, and generated a really lovely playlist that helps me identify some other music I really enjoy, and — here’s the economics hook — at least one CD that I will purchase, based on what I heard in the playlist. One thing I have yet to figure out that I want to do, though, is to seed multiple artists to generate a playlist — Interpol + Franz Ferdinand + Follow the People, for example, or Tallis + Byrd + Dowland. That’s one feature I really like about Pandora that I’d like to capture in Spotify.

The social/sharing aspects are also nice. I usually don’t sync much across social networks, being a bit of a privacy weenie, but I linked Spotify to my Facebook account, and I can see their shared playlists and share my playlists with them. Good conversation starters as well as ways to share experiences with friends and identify new music.

I’ve also played around a bit with the Android app on my phone, and have synced up a few of my local playlists, although I don’t listen to music on my phone that often. It’s a clean interface and works well, with no latency in my experience thus far.

The Spotify desktop application doesn’t do a great job of maintaining the video and podcast file organizational structure, so if I want to organize my podcasts in Spotify it looks like I have to go in and build the file structure. That means I will continue using iTunes for podcasts and videos, and will likely duplicate music management — so, for example, if I buy an MP3 album on Amazon I’ll import it into my iTunes library, which syncs with the Spotify desktop, and I’ll keep my iPod synced with iTunes and not Spotify. That may change if I make more Spotify playlists that don’t rely on music in my local library.

The business background of Spotify is interesting, in the context of copyright, file sharing, RIAA, and the reactionary positions of the recording industry as technology changes the world around them. This Bloomberg article, constructed as a profile of Spotify founder Daniel Ek, gives a good discussion of those issues and how Spotify’s business model is a way to embrace and profit from such innovation. Interestingly, the major record labels are part owners of Spotify, similar in certain respects to what Hulu is doing for TV.

Spring weekends in Chicago–athletics and music edition

Lynne Kiesling

One of the KP Spouse’s and my best friends has a great quote: “adventure is ordeal retold at a distance”. Today, on a gloriously sunny day, I think I’ve got enough distance from yesterday’s ordeal to think of it as an adventure! Actually, only the first part was an ordeal; the rest was delightful.

Sunday started at 5:15 AM when the alarm went off, and the KP Spouse, our friend Meg from LA, and I prepared for the Chicago Spring Half Marathon. When we opened the blinds and saw the damp pavement and the vigor of the treetops whipping around, we knew this one was going to be a doozy. The temperature was 46 degrees and due to fall during the day. The whitecaps and the layers of gray colors made Lake Michigan look like the Atlantic Ocean. Sadly for us, what creates whitecaps in Chicago is stiff winds out of the north barreling down the length of the lake — in this case, 20mph winds with frequent 40mph gusts. This was not good news for a race course run entirely on the lakefront path, out and back, with the first 6.5 miles heading south. The tailwind on the way out was pretty sweet, but I was still soaked through by mile 5, and the northbound return was the most brutal hour-plus of any of my sporty endeavors. Still, we (and a bunch of other crazy folks) finished, and I even managed a PR on the day. The real troopers on the day were the volunteers on the course and the spectators, voluntarily cheering their friends and family and the rest of us.

Recovery/transition involved homemade banana pancakes, a lovely bottle of prosecco, compression socks, and a Colin Firth-rich Pride and Prejudice marathon.

Then on to the next event! Elvis Costello, still the coolest guy in town even after 35 years of a rich musical career, brought his Impostors and a spinning wheel of songs to the Chicago Theater. With the help of some creative and enthusiastic wheel spinning and dancing from audience members, they charged through a variety of the Elvis Costello catalog. And we danced, and hopped, and sang. This is the third time I’ve seen these guys in the past three years, and they are a consistently creative and tight band of outstanding musicians. One example: the classic up-tempo Costello song “Pump It Up” played in 6/8 time instead of 4/4 — a sultry, jazzy version grounded in Pete’s (the drummer’s) outstanding triplets keeping the time. And some Smokey Robinson and Prince cover medleys for good measure.

Yep, life’s an adventure.

The Economist: (sing with me!)”Dave and Nick/are punk rockers”

Lynne Kiesling

Oh, yes, the old 80s girl in me loves the image on what just came in the mail:

And the substance behind their point is equally, well, pointed:

Yet within its first 100 days the Con-Lib coalition has emerged as a radical force. For the first time since Margaret Thatcher handbagged the world in 1979, Britain looks like the West’s test-tube (see article). It is daring again—not always in a good way but in one that is likely to be instructive to more timid souls, not least Mr Obama and his Republican foes.

The most obvious audacity of hope lies in the budget, unveiled by George Osborne, the new chancellor of the exchequer, in June. To balance the books, he raised some taxes, notably VAT, but three-quarters of the savings will come from spending cuts. Most government departments will shrink by a quarter, though Mr Osborne excluded the National Health Service from his savagery. In the heated debate between Keynesian economists (who worry that a weak world economy needs more government spending) and fiscal hawks (who believe deficits must be tackled now to stave off Grecian disaster), Britain is the prime exhibit for tough love. …

So a gamble it remains. But it is one that in general this newspaper supports. Throughout the rich world, government has simply got too big and Mr Cameron’s crew currently have the most promising approach to trimming it. Others—and not just the tottering likes of Greece and Spain—will surely follow. That includes America.

Make no mistake, though; Britain’s coalition government is not libertarian through-and-through. But its practical policy gamble is consistent with a recognition that “government has simply got too big” for both the practical and the moral focus on individual liberty that must be the foundation of a prosperous, resilient, and respectful society.

And you get bonus points if you realized that my title invokes one of the best proto-punk songs ever, The Ramones’ Sheena is a Punk Rocker.

Anticipa-a-tion … and more music recs

Lynne Kiesling

I’m overly eager for the new album from The National, so much so that when I looked at the release date I paid attention to the day and not the month. Doh! So now I have to wait until MAY 11, grrrr. Two other great bands, LCD Soundsystem and Band of Horses, have albums coming out on May 18. Mid-May will be a deluge of great new music! But can I make the two new National tracks I’ve got quell my anticipation?

New music recommendation: The National-High Violet

Lynne Kiesling

It’s been too long since we’ve done any decent music recs here at KP, and last Sunday’s release of The National’s new album High Violet is a good reason to do one now. I’ve heard a couple of songs from it, including “Bloodbuzz Ohio” that they are offering as a free download, and they are great. Lush, layered, sophisticated, interesting. I think I will frequent my local indie record shop tomorrow and get the deluxe CD …

Pandora lived

Michael Giberson

We’ve raved about Pandora here a number of times (KP search for “Pandora”). The New York Times recently reported on the surprising fact of Pandora: unlike a lot of other internet music startups, it survived. In fact, lately the company has prospered and is talking about going public.

It turns out that the Pandora iPhone app (which I raved about here) was part of what has sealed Pandora’s success.

Adler on the Housemartins: Sunday Song Lyric

Lynne Kiesling

While I’m out reading around … Jonathan Adler asks “Who remembers the Housemartins?” I do, I do! I actually liked them better than their Beautiful South spinoff, although both have a dark humor and a tight, jangly, pop-y vibe that was one of my favorite themes in British music in the 1980s. Sadly, I haven’t listened to them in years, because it’s all on vinyl, in a box up in my home office/attic …

Speaking of tight, jangly British music, I had my own 80s music revival experience on Friday night, when the KP Spouse and our friend Sharon and I went to see Lloyd Cole and his new group, the Lloyd Cole Small Ensemble, at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Lloyd Cole has always impressed me as a clever and inventive songwriter, accompanied by his clear and distinctive voice and spare, clean guitar lines. With his original band the Commotions, he created two albums that were in regular rotation on my stereo. Even today I still have LC&TC songs and Lloyd Cole solo songs figuring prominently on playlists on my iPod; “Four Flights Up”, “Perfect Skin”, and “Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?” are awesome, and his solo “A Long Way Down” has this most excellent lyric:

Didn’t I hear you say your heart’s made out of steel
And no one’s gonna get so close
No one’s gonna know how you feel

Now you’re a punch drunk sycophant
A little SOB
You say your mind is made up
Isn’t that the way that it’s supposed to be?

“Punch drunk sycophant” has since become one of my favorite phrases. And finally, to reinforce his status as a music icon, in 2006 Camera Obscura (a fine, lovely Scottish band!) released their song “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken.” (link will play the song on, give it a listen!). If you are an 80s Lloyd Cole & the Commotions fan who’s not listened in a while, or if you have never heard of him before, give him and his new band a listen; it’ll be worth your attention.

Oh, and today’s his birthday. Happy birthday Lloyd!

Another early music fan

Lynne Kiesling

Imagine my delight upon perusing the Volokh Conspiracy earlier this week to find that Kenneth Anderson is a fellow early music fan! Not only that, but he also appreciates and plays the cello, my favorite non-percussion instrument. I listen to a lot of Baroque music, which of course means that I listen to a lot of J.S. Bach, especially the Brandenberg Concertos 1-3 and 4-6 performed by Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert, violinist Daniel Hope’s concertos recording, and Yo-Yo Ma’s cello suites recording. I’ve also had Ofra Harnoy’s recordings of Vivaldi cello concertos and Nigel Kennedy’s recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in my short rotation for a long, long time. But other than the occasional Handel, that’s pretty much been the extent of my deep experience with Baroque music; I’ve long been a big Schubert fan, and have spent more time listening to classical and early romantic chamber music than digging into the Baroque and earlier periods.

For some reason, though, over the past year I’ve been fixated on Baroque and earlier music — completely and utterly fixated. About two years ago we saw Handel’s Giulio Cesare at the Lyric Opera, and it was just stunning musically and visually (it was the Glyndebourne production, available on DVD). And then late last winter I remember coming home from work one evening and walking in the door to find the KP Spouse listening to the Tallis Scholars performing William Byrd’s masses, and for some reason it bored into my brain. Thus two things converged for me — Baroque and earlier music, and my long-standing Anglophilic appreciation of sacred music, especially choral music performed by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge (yes, I am that pathetic Anglophile who makes a point of listening to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols every Christmas Eve day!).

As a result I’ve been exploring more music and more composers — Pergolesi, Palestrina, Scarlatti, Purcell — and finding a wealth of interesting music! My favorites right now are two that I bought in London in August: a new recording of Purcell’s Fairy Queen and The Prophetess, and a 1994 recording of Bach’s The Art of Fugue. I also have a two-volume recording of Palestrina from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge that I got recently that is rocking my world.

Anderson’s post at Volokh reminds me of more composers to check out, choral and string — Corelli, Gabrieli, Gabrielli (yes, there are two), Caldara, Sainte-Colombe — and I am grateful for that. Another great place to look for recordings of early music is Magnatune, an outstanding label that has lots of pre-1800 recordings (and reminds me to listen to Rameau and Couperin). Coincidentally, on Wednesday in the Telegraph, Ivan Hewett asks if Purcell was the best English composer:

In short, he knew his worth, and didn’t suffer fools gladly (another similarity with Mozart). His technical facility was astounding. In a guide to practical music published in 1697, Purcell described composing a set of variations over a repeating bass as “a very easie thing to do, and requires but little judgment”. It’s actually really hard, especially when combined – as Purcell often did – with strict counterpoint. His wonderful fantasias for viol consort are full of amazing feats, such as combining a tune with itself at three different speeds.

That doesn’t make him great, of course, but it means he had the necessary craft to capture his own expressive world, which was both enormously wide and sharply individual.

Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the link. I’ve never been much of a Vaughan Williams or an Elgar fan (although I have Yo-Yo Ma’s recording of Elgar’s cello concerto, which is quite nice), so I’m open to the argument for Purcell as one of England’s unjustly underappreciated composers.

We’re fortunate in Chicago to have a lot of early music resources, including the Early MusiChicago portal to hear about concerts, lectures, and so on. We have several performance groups/consorts, including the outstanding Music of the Baroque (which will be performing Mozart’s Requiem in February), the Newberry Consort, and the Chicago Early Music Consort. We will also be having the debut Chicago Early Music Festival this April.

For all of these reasons, 2010 looks like a great year for exploring early music! I will be doing so as mentioned above, and I’ll also finally take the plunge and get Glenn Gould’s recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Do you have any recommendations to share?