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April 10, 2006


Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* More than once I've come across Terry Teachout mentioning that he doesn't much like going to classical music concerts and sees little future in them. Here's his most recent post dealing with the matter.

I agree with Terry.

Concertgoing in Seattle or San Francisco -- the cities I'm most familiar with in this respect -- involves (1) spending a significant chunk of money for tickets, (2) dressing up, (3) driving to the concert hall, (4) spending money to park the car, (5) spending money for drinks while hanging out in the lobby, and (6) driving home afterwards.

And this does not take into account sitting in the hall watching ... what? The conductor gesturing, string-instrument players bowing and other players moving their instruments into or out of playing position.

Now each and every bit of this can be a treasured experience (especially examining the credit card receipt at the end of the month). In most cases, I can do without the entire thing.

I like classical music. And when I'm in the mood for a particular version of a particular piece, then all I need to do is pop the appropriate CD into a player and listen. What's so awful about doing that instead of going to a live performance?

* It dawns on me that some of you might not know how my last name is pronounced.

One says -- PITT-n-ger -- where the "g" is the soft French "g" and not the hard German "g".

I'm not much into genealogy, but the consensus of a few Web pages I looked at is that the name comes from the Rhine River area -- possibly downstream in the Netherlands, but more likely someplace along the river towards where it forms the French-German border.

In Germany the name would just as likely be spelled with a "B" and the e's and i's might be mixed up a bit. The "g" would be hard, as I noted. Let's say a German might say BETT-Inger, BETT-Enger, BITTING-er or some other permutation. And it seems some spelling variations of the p's and b'e and i's and e's are found in the U.S.

The soft-G American pronunciation might well have evolved after members of the family arrived here. But it's also possible that the family was Alsatian -- coming from the mixed French-German west bank of the Rhine -- and that the French-G came via that source.

* I'm clueless about Manga, the Japanese comic book/graphic novel/Anime (animation) cartoon art.

I have a nephew who got so hooked on the stuff while in college at UC San Diego that he moved to Japan to be nearer to the source.

For the purposes of this Bagatelle, let's set aside plot, characterization, dramatic pacing of the panels, cinema-influenced staging, etc. and focus on the depiction of people. Although there are variations between artists, there also seems to be a large amount of Manga so uniform in appearance that it might have come from a factory.

I don't "get" this mainstream Manga style. Not only that, I don't much like it either.

What am I missing? Can someone out there set me straight?



posted by Donald at April 10, 2006


Donald--what you have to do is get someone to give you a free pass to the concert hall, as someone did with me and Carnegie. I go every other night, practically (primarily because I like one of the double bass players).
I once had an Alsatian-origin friend whose orginal name was Saerchinger (that's a with an umlaut, SAYR-KING-ER). Anglicized it was Searchinger, pronounced Searching-er, so the G stayed hard). His claim to fame is that he made the Van Gogh film which was the most watched doc'y in PBS history. Then he did a number of films about language.
I had another friend who worked for a firm that distributed animated Japanese videos. It always guaranteed her a job at least, because of their popularity.
Is there a Rutabagatelle?

Posted by: winifer skattebol on April 10, 2006 5:52 PM

It may be that -- ironically -- SF and Seattle are a little too big for one of the main functions of prestigious gatherings of the educated and moneyed, which is the see-and-be-seen rituals always wedged into Edith Wharton novels. In her time one lived for the evenings when one could scan the people from the reserved boxes, commenting on the clothes and noting that Mr. X was not attending with Mrs. X next to him, but rather a "niece."

Even now, I recall a wonderful production of "Midsummer Night's Dream" (Shakespeare's version) in Portland which I attended on comp tickets with my mother. We were "impressed" when the mayor stepped on my toe to get to his seats -- he had come late but with Mrs. Goldschmidt. The second Mrs. G. She missed my toe but her nether anatomy passed closely before my eyes. This was before his Clintonesque past arrived in the news and stunned us all.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on April 10, 2006 6:06 PM

Pianist Gary Graffman says the main problem with classical music is that it's become too populist in its effort to attract bigger audiences. The policies designed to attract audiences that don't like classical music tend to drive away those that do. Demystification and informality have replaced musicmaking as the goal of orchestras. Graffman says the mission should be "to play the best music in the best way for those who want to hear it". Graffman's contrarian speech is here.

My favorite line: "Nobody is trying to get me to attend a wrestling match; so why should I try to make someone who prefers wrestling to Beethoven attend a symphony concert?" Why indeed?

Personally, I avoid classical concerts because the performances are so dull and smoothed over and mainstream and radio friendly that I don't see the damn point. I stay home and listen to wartime Furtwangler instead.

Posted by: Brian on April 10, 2006 8:13 PM

I agree with your assessment of the difficulty involved in attending a purely musical concert versus the complexity and expense involved in moving around in a big city. I will make one exception to this and that is opera. My wife and I lived in San Francisco for ten years and loved attending the operas there. It was worth all the hassle. I fondly remember "The Marriage of Figaro" as the most wonderful experience I have ever had at a live performance anywhere. You just can't reproduce an experience like that on a CD or DVD.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on April 10, 2006 9:22 PM

I don't ordinarily pay much attention to the classical-music world, but I've heard that the musicians' union has wrought havoc on it. Is that true?
Manga is strange enough, but it's nothing compared to hentai, which is an _extreme_ version of Japanimation.

Posted by: Peter on April 10, 2006 9:32 PM

Re: Manga. Alas, the spectrum of fans will range from the childish, through the schizoid, and on to those afflicted with thought disorders. The majority will mass at the immature side of the distribution, thank goodness. But the truly obsessed...

Posted by: Don McArthur on April 10, 2006 10:00 PM

It's amazing how much more fun it is to see a good band at a club than it is a classical music symphony. I think this has something to do with the improvisational nature of pop music. At a great pop concert the "composer" is creating the music before your eyes in response to your reaction, there's a vital interplay between audience and performer. At a symphony hired hands are playing dead notes off the paper. Of course performances vary, but one senses that the bureaucracy of the symphony is so unwieldy that the performance strategy and quality must be determined in rehearsal, not "live" in front of the audience.

Posted by: MQ on April 10, 2006 10:56 PM

Re: Manga

As with anything, it's 90% garbage. The uniformity, visually and thematically, is one of its weakest points. I suspect, generally speaking, the preference for the typical Manga style is by-and-large a factor of the genericness of the characters -- If you dressed most of the protagonists of different series in the same clothes you would hardly be able to tell them apart. The perfectly-fit-and-attractive-yet-undistinguished characters provide a great template for self-identification with the characters.

Posted by: . on April 11, 2006 10:56 AM

For some of us, it's about the sound. For pop and jazz, my home stereo sounds better than any club or auditorium. If the music is already amplified, then popping a cd in a machine is good enough.

But no home stereo -- and I've spent a lot of time and money setting mine up -- will come remotely close to reproducing the power, subtlety, and elegance of a full symphony orchestra (unamplified electronically!!) in a great hall.

Posted by: jn on April 11, 2006 12:10 PM

The only problem with being satisfied with recordings is that when you do go to a concert with a piece you are familiar with, you end up comparing with the recording and may or may not be bound for disappointment.

Personally, I only go to concerts whenever possible that may contain something interesting. As a student, I am lucky to have at my disposal a package that gives me cheap tickets to various events at the performing arts center. And I take a gamble as to which I would like to attend, most end up being wonderful. Ranging from jazz ensembles to string quartets, and even Philip Glass.

Live classical concerts I think should serve a dual purpose: to showcase the best music can offer, as others have stated before, and to explore what is possible in music. So both deferring to the canon and the new. I would like to be part of the committee that programs the concert schedule, but alas, I am and outsider in the classical world (which is a hobby of mine) and my overtures may be threatening to them.

As for the manga thing, well, better ask my younger sister about that. She knows more about it and is familiar with the various artistic styles within. She can tell you which is a Studio CLAMP vs. Rumiko Takahashi. Personally, I like the style for its sharp lines and dynamism, but most of it isn't all that appealing to me.

On the other hand, what about the aesthetics of American comics? They may have a myriad of styles to choose from and are highly diverse compared to manga, but within, I find some samness there too. Take the superhero comics or some of the more serious series. Is there a sizeable minority of them that doesn't consist of drawing characters as if they came from an anatomy textbook?

If I wanted to see ripped people and dramatic poses, I'd look at the paintings and sculptures of the Renaissance. My sister also finds the overly buff and static style of American superhero comics off-putting. She couldn't finish reading "V for Vendetta" complaining that all the characters had similar builds (much like how you, Donald, are lamenting the sameness of manga, which is just as valid). Sometimes I find American comic art to be taking itself too seriously.

Posted by: Andrew Yen on April 11, 2006 12:41 PM

As a musician, I prefer live performance of any type of music. You can't reproduce the fact that the next note hasn't happened yet and something could go awry at any moment. At orchestra performances, I enjoy focusing on one section or even a single player, and seeing how he/she is absorbed into the whole group while still having some influence into how the group sounds. And the interaction between performers and audience is there at classical concerts, although it is much more subtle than at a rock show. If it's a lackluster evening, the classical audience is almost comatose and you can feel it. If it's on fire, the audience is finely attentive and almost can't wait for the piece to end so they can erupt in (polite) applause.

The expense can be prohibitive, although many places (SFs opera house, for one) have great deals on season passes or blocks of tickets. Also, the more unusual (read: modern) evenings are sparsely attended, less expensive and usually more interesting.

That said, I haven't been to a live orchestral performance in probably 10 years, so I wouldn't listen to me.

Posted by: the patriarchy on April 11, 2006 1:07 PM

Last Sunday I was the active part of an concert audience that sang the chorals in St' John's Passion, just as was custom in Bach's times.

Every year I make sure I visit at least one sing-a-long Passion around Easter. And I am always amazed at the quality of the singing of the audience. There are many choirs in the Netherlands.

But, on topic, classical music is played at many different spots in many settings around here. I hardly ever visit the large concert halls anymore, also because the performance of chamber music often requires a more intimate setting.

Why do you focus on your hate for the big and expensive concert halls so much, when there's so much more music on offer?

Posted by: ijsbrand on April 11, 2006 4:29 PM

Here are some scattered replies ...

Winnifer -- Rutbagatelle? I never took botany, so I'm not sure. But don't see any reason why not.

Mary -- True, you can rub elbows (or something else, as you point out) with famous folks if you attend concerts.

Brian -- You are illustrating the (intractable?) problem of live classical. It's expensive to put on, so orchestras normally can't get too experimental in their programming without driving away too many patrons. Yet another reason for recorded music.

Charlton -- The only opera I saw in San Francisco was "The Marriage of Figaro" back in 1983 or thereabouts. As Emperor Josef II in "Amadeus" put it, "It was long!"

MQ -- Yes, when you go to an improvised performance you can't be certain what you'll be hearing.

Andrew -- Lots of interesting observation you have, but let me touch on comics. Agreed the superhero stuff is stereotyped in its own way. But if the characters aren't wearing their masks, they might be seen to be recognizable humans, unlike Manga characatures.

Patriarchy -- One problem I have is that I can't hear higher-pitched sounds. Been this way since youth. So great HiFi or live performance gets 40% lost on me even under good circumstances.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on April 11, 2006 4:37 PM

Oh, I see. It's the inhumanness in appearance of manga characters that seems off. The proportions aren't right, there is no real-life analog to this style. I've seen attempts to "realize" the proportions of manga/anime physiology in the form of costume, and it doesn't work all that well. Actually, something you could try instead is to look at cosplay which is essentially people dressing up as a character. Perhaps your analogs can be found there. Of course, it is wildly different from what is drawn, but it does manage to meet it halfway.

Well, it IS a form that was influenced by American cartoons of the 1st half of the 20th century which later established itself as something of another sort. Yes, eyes taking up to half the area of the face, hair that doesn't obey physics, chins that can cut you, and overtly leggy people are not really meant to represent real-life humans. Perhaps they are avatars if you must. One of the most interesting observations of manga is that many of the characters are essentially raceless or some ambiguous mix between whites and Asians. Another element to add to the mix of bizarreness.

How about this: looking at the funny pages, do you accept that the characters in them whether it is Jon Arbuckle, April Patterson, or the people of Doonesbury to be human, despite the exagerrations slight or extreme to specific aspects of their anatomy (eyes, noses, etc.)?

Posted by: Andrew Yen on April 11, 2006 6:19 PM

Found something that may help (or not) illuminate the reason why manga "looks" that way.

Via Steven den Beste:

Look for entries 20051204 & 20051203. Or once you see upside-down pictures, you've hit the right area.

Posted by: Andrew Yen on April 11, 2006 6:31 PM

Ijsbrand -- I don't "hate" orchestras in concert halls. My point was that the payoff in going is not, for me, proportional to the cost and effort in doing so. The same applies to chamber music, etc.

And I could have mentioned that the live concert was necessary to hear orchestral music pre-early 20th century and that the technology of the late 20th C and beyond has pretty much eliminated the need for concertgoing if all one wants to do is hear the music.

And I am totally un-musical. For people who are musical and enjoy performances and even preforming themselves, the equation is probably different.

I should add that Teachout is a musician, so take a look at his take on this via that link I provided.

Andrew -- Um, my post mentioned that Manga was something of a mystery to me and that I had trouble coming to grips with the most common drawing style. U.S. superheroes weren't my subject at all, and I haven't read superhero comics since I was a kid, long before Marvel strode onto the scene.

Comic strip characters (in the USA and Europe) strike me as being drawn individualistically, where the artist's personality shines. Much Manga I've seen (and I confess I've seen little) seems to submerge the artists. It's almost like Disney or WB animation studio folks cranking out the same stuff.

Yes Peanuts characters don't look much like real humans. Nor do Beetle Bailey or Doonesbury characters. That convention is accepted. The Manga analogy would be the case where 70% of U.S. Comic strips had characters drawn in Doonesbury style. Charlie Brown would not have been Charlie Brown.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on April 11, 2006 6:47 PM

Hi there. My name's Dirk Deppey, and I'm the managing editor of The Comics Journal. I was almost as much an outsider as everyone else on the subject of manga until two years ago, when I took over the magazine and set about beefing up its coverage of Japanese comics (which have quickly risen to become the first real competition major U.S. comics companies like Marvel and DC have seen in over three decades).

I discovered that the entryway into manga for more literate adults is girls manga -- shoujo (teenage girls) and josei (female adult) manga, particularly. We devoted an entire issue to the subject, sample essays from which can be found here:

As a starting volume, I'd recommend Ai Yazawa's five-volume fashion manga, "Paradise Kiss," which is probably the closest I've ever come to seeing a Pedro Almodovar film on paper. If that grabs you, Viz is currently reprinting Yazawa's massive, multi-volume follow-up series, a gloriously trashy rock-and-roll soap opera called "Nana." Erica Sakurazawa's romance manga are good, too: of particular interest is "Between the Sheets," about a close friendship between two women that falters when one falls in love with the other.

On the male side of the fence, there's a hard science-fiction manga called "Planetes," about orbital garbage collectors, that makes the romance of space exploration for its own sake the story's central theme. It's probably the best sci-fi comic of the last two decades -- the best since Howard Chaykin's 1980s cyberpunk romp "American Flagg!" -- and is guaranteed to please anyone who grew up on Robert Heinlein juveniles.

There's better manga available in Japan, but the current boom in American translation involves teenagers and college-age young adults as the primary demographic, so it'll likely be a couple of years before they grow up and the market for the more literate, mature stuff becomes viable. The only publisher really trying to make a go of such works right now is an alliance between British publisher Fanfare and Spanish publisher Ponent Mon -- search Amazon for Kan Takahama's urban short-story collection "Kinderbook," and two titles by revered cartoonist Jiro Tanaguchi, "The Walking Man" and "The Time of Botchan."

Posted by: Dirk Deppey on April 11, 2006 9:34 PM

I'm eager to try "yaoi" -- manga meant for girls, but featuring semi-explicit romances between pretty young men. Evidently girls like the genre. Evidently American girls are catching on. Weird new world! Has anyone read a decent yaoi they can recommend as a starting-place?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 11, 2006 10:05 PM

Donald - Que sera sera then. Manga requires a certain suspension of belief from real physics and "realistic" depictions. The drawings serve more as a vehicle for the story than for itself. One aspect, the "factory" look is true to an extent. If a title is very successful, usually the creator would be able to hire a team of under-artists to do basic parts of the manga under his/her supervision. If those artists then break out on their own, the influence of their supervising artist might rub off on them. So a homogeneity sets in. Studio CLAMP is an example of this. Nearly all of their titles have the same general appearance because all the artists belong to a doujinshi group that shared similar drawing styles.

Independent manga artists tend to have more freedom to express themselves, I think. Therefore they are less compelled to toe the line on generic appearance.

These days, with the generation of people my age and around, I've been seeing a fusion of both Eastern and Western comic styles. A sort of happy medium I may call it. However, this has led to a proliferation of youngsters using manga as a base for drawing which is woeful since it gives a rather skewed idea of what anatomy and proportion is like (though I can't say the same for Japanese kids who naturally draw that way regardless because that's their native style).

One person that comes to mind of the hybrid style is the Taiwanese manga artist Jo-Chen:

Michael - Although I'm not much of a fan of Yaoi because I find the stories completely unbelievable, but then again, most shoujo manga has some of the most outrageous plots I've across, I know of them at least. However, two that stick up most in my recent memory are "Gravitation" and "Loveless". There are plenty others, perhaps you can Wikipedia it.

Posted by: Andrew Yen on April 11, 2006 10:36 PM

Michael: The genre actually comes in two flavors. "Shounen-ai" concentrates on romance, whereas "yaoi" tends to be more explicit.

(There's also a female equivalent, which likewise breaks down into "shoujo-ai" and "yuri." If you're willing to download zipfiles and read image files on your computer, you can find amateur translations of the better stuff at -- I recommend the works of Yamanji Ebine if you're looking for storytelling, and Kishi Torajiro's deliciously naughty "Maka-Maka" if the softcore tease is what you're after.)

The best shounen-ai I've seen is in "Antique Bakery," an ensemble comedy-drama about the goings-on in a refined pastry shop in Tokyo. It has multiple shounen-ai elements, but enough else is going on that they don't overpower the reading experience. (It also contains one of the few gay males in Japanese comics who isn't a walking, talking stereotype in one direction or other.) I'm a gay male myself, and thus strangely indifferent to the genre -- it really IS written by women for women -- but I seem to recall that "Only the Ring Finger Knows" is currently the most popular yaoi series.

Posted by: Dirk Deppey on April 11, 2006 10:47 PM

Andrew -- Your comments are greatly appreciated. I couldn't do commenting much justice today, being rushed to attend meetings, etc. and didn't spend as much time as I should have mulling over comments from you and others. The thing with blogging is that a thread might go stale really quickly so I felt I had to get my two cents in fairly fast. As it turns out, the comments for this post have "legs." I have read some of Den Beste's stuff on Anime from a couple years ago and will try to take a peek at the links you propose.

Dirk -- I'm still rushed, but you have a lot to say from an informed POV -- I'll dig into it tomorrow.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on April 11, 2006 11:06 PM

the patriarchy: "As a musician, I prefer live performance of any type of music. You can't reproduce the fact that the next note hasn't happened yet and something could go awry at any moment."

When I was a kid my parents took me to see a local orchestra do Beethoven's mighty Fifth. During the middle of the last movement, the conductor forgot his place, threw his hands in the air, and the entire orchestra ground to a cacophonous halt. He turned to the audience - which was aghast - and muttered "Sorry". Then he started the movement over from the beginning. Ah, the thrill of live performance!

BTW, Teachout has a habit of turning his minor idiosyncracies into major social trends, and I think he may be doing it here. (Sort of like the people who think the death of moviegoing began the very moment they themselves quit showing up.) As the Graffman article points out, predicting the death of classical music is one of its oldest traditions.

Posted by: Brian on April 12, 2006 2:42 AM

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