Aaron Copland and the Common Man

Aaron_Copland_1970I grew up on classical music long before I discovered rock & roll, but the closest I’ve ever come to feeling transcendence was listening to Aaron Copland, especially the closing section of Appalachian Spring — the best definition of “God” this unbeliever has ever heard.

But I recently sat down for the first time in a long time with Aaron Copland’s 3rd Symphony, with its soaring and majestic rises and falls, its quiet optimism and wide-open unending vistas and faraway American horizons. The work was debuted in 1946, a year after the Allied victory in World War 2.

Copland’s music was uniquely “American.” He invented the musical vocabulary we’ve come to know in all those old western movie classics. But listening to this symphony in its historical context — the aftermath of the world’s greatest conflict — gives it added weight. You can hear quiet echoes of peace and the hope that this final, catastrophic war would be the last. There are also echoes of victorious celebration of the fact that “we” had won but only at such a great cost. There was a whole society to rebuild, but a better world was on the horizon with no one to stand in our way.

But most interesting is that the final movement incorporates his earlier work “Fanfare for the Common Man” slightly rearranged and given greater majesty. The fanfare was originally written in 1942 partly in response to America’s entry into WW2, so the 3rd symphony uses a piece of music that bookends the world’s most devastating war. The Fanfare is there to remind us that even with our victory, wrought by technology and with the promise of science solving all the problems ahead of us, at its heart America’s hope lies not with machines and technical prowess, but with the common man and woman.

Rogue Nation

There’s a lot of hate for JJ Abrams, but when he makes movies that play to his strengths, he wins. He saved the Mission Impossible franchise with 3 and with the utterly terrific Ghost Protocol, and the trailer for the 5th installment, Rogue Nation, looks to be continuing in the Abrams vein and is totally BONKERS. I’m in.

About galactic empires

GalacticEmpireBlackWarning: sci fi geekery ahead.

For some time now I’ve been writing up notes on a “galactic empire” that would look quite different from what’s been portrayed in most science fiction. In my imagination, a true galactic empire wouldn’t need to “conquer planets,” go to war or fight giant space battles. In fact, it would be better if most intelligent species were unaware of what else is happening in space. The wildly disparate levels of technology would be so variant that any kind of outwardly visible empire doing battle with another wouldn’t be plausible. I assume if an empire is able to encompass the galaxy it would have done so because it was able to move out first, before anyone else had risen to a level of civilization sufficient to challenge it.

An empire — if that’s what you need to call it — would only need to bring a few other spacefaring species into the fold and keep a close eye on the millions of lesser-advanced species, infecting those planets with exclusionary religions, superstitions and fractious nationalism to keep them from climbing out of their cradles.

Any resources, wealth, minerals, whatever, needed by the empire can be extracted from these planets without the natives ever knowing, but the resources could be taken from uninhabited planets anyway. I’ve never been quite able to buy it when a story posits an empire advanced enough to control a whole galaxy but still needs to target this one small planet to get the one thing it needs.

The name of the game would be to keep any planet that might one day be capable of advancing to the point of being a threat mired in distractions. The empire’s sociological scientists would be advanced enough to figure out who might be a threat in a few thousand years and who wouldn’t. And the empire would be thinking in terms of thousands or even tens of thousands of years, in the way modern nations think in decades.

With all that in mind, I found this article about what Frank Herbert and Isaac Asimov got wrong in their visions of galactic empires. I’m not sure I agree with everything in the article, but it’s a great conversation starter.

iPhone inside a guitar

This was first posted a few years ago but I just came across it today: A man put an iPhone inside a guitar and started to play. Watch the strings as the camera captures the oscillation!