Nourishment in the Age of Content

Our civilization is flooded with content: a thread on Twitter denouncing an evil politician; a series of narcissistic bikini photos on Instagram accompanied by a caption about the difficulty of self-acceptance; a YouTube video featuring some cultish pundit offering cultural criticism; a podcast interview with a journalist going on about their new Very Important Book; that journalist also has a Substack newsletter. You must pre-order their book, by the way, because everybody will be tweeting about it as soon as it comes out. But when will you find time to read it amongst all of the other content? …


Musings on Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

What is it like being related to a genius? More specifically, how must it have felt to be Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, son of Johann Sebastian Bach, the largest musician the world will ever know? It can’t have been easy — CPE was a great enough composer to recognize his father’s genius even while the world temporarily passed over JS — but he bore the burden admirably.

It’s a peculiar case: CPE had more recognition than his father in his own lifetime, though Bach père has since eclipsed not only his sons, but every other musician. Today, if someone refers…


Radical Thinking à la Carte

Rob Bogaerts / Anefo / CC0

There is a recording on YouTube of James Joyce reading Anna Livia Plurabelle, an exquisite little prose-poem from his infamously adiaphane novel Finnegans Wake. Joyce, who had a beautiful tenor, sculpted melody out of language in a way that ought to make composers envious; it’s fitting, then, that one of the great interpretations of the Wake, Joyce’s most musical work, came from the mind of John Cage.

Roaratorio, an Irish circus on Finnegans Wake, which Cage wrote in 1979, uses recordings taken from all of the locations namechecked in the novel. Underneath these mostly Irish sounds is a ground bass…


On Werner Herzog’s “The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner” (1974)

A man lifts off from a ski ramp, the embodiment of our ancestors’ dreams, flying without a machine. His technique is impeccable and beautiful; through the eye of the high-speed camera, he seems to be in perpetual flight, supported by the minimal, elevating music. The scene cuts to a workshop where we see the same man carving and detailing beautiful wooden sculptures; he is both a gifted athlete and a sensitive artist. Back at the slopes there is a sequence of spectacular crashes from various ski jumpers. The music, through all of this, is unperturbed.

This opening to The Great…


On Werner Herzog’s “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser” (1974)

I was deeply moved by The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Werner Herzog’s 1974 film starring Bruno S. as the titular foundling. It is the story of a boy who has lived his first sixteen years in this world chained in an underground cellar. His only human contact is a mysteriously cloaked man who feeds him, teaches him to scribble his name, to walk, to say a phrase or two, and then abandons him in an unnamed Bavarian town. Kaspar Hauser emerges into this bourgeois society from the blackest night and is subsequently arrested, cared for, exhibited in a circus, adopted…


Near the climax of Ratatouille, an unsuspecting waiter takes an order from Anton Ego, the harshest food critic in Paris: “Do you know what you’d like this evening, sir?” Ego, voiced by the legendary Peter O’Toole, responds, “Yes, I think I do. After reading a lot of overheated puffery about your new cook, you know what I’m craving? A little perspective. That’s it. I’d like some fresh, clear, well-seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that?” Waiter: “With what, sir?” Ego: “Perspective. Fresh out, I take it?” The waiter hesitates. Ego: “Very well. Since you’re all…


Musicians, especially flutists, are ridiculous. The field is populated by garden-variety village idiots, and the profession is largely a closed circle, of little use or relevance to the real lives of real people. Read what musicians have to say for themselves: a major flute-centered publication honors flutists “whose dedication has transformed the landscape around them” and claims that their gladiatorial competitions are “ways to be part of a collective spirit”; a highly sought-after performer fancies herself a musical doctor, healing the souls of her audiences; a well-respected professor claims that music school is more difficult than medical school, and even…

Sridhar Bhagavathula

Flutist & cohost of the Impolite to Listen podcast

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