Saturday, August 30, 2008

Internet Traffic Begins to Bypass the U.S.

August 30, 2008
Internet Traffic Begins to Bypass the U.S.

SAN FRANCISCO — The era of the American Internet is ending.

Invented by American computer scientists during the 1970s, the Internet has been embraced around the globe. During the network’s first three decades, most Internet traffic flowed through the United States. In many cases, data sent between two locations within a given country also passed through the United States.

Engineers who help run the Internet said that it would have been impossible for the United States to maintain its hegemony over the long run because of the very nature of the Internet; it has no central point of control.

And now, the balance of power is shifting. Data is increasingly flowing around the United States, which may have intelligence — and conceivably military — consequences.

American intelligence officials have warned about this shift. “Because of the nature of global telecommunications, we are playing with a tremendous home-field advantage, and we need to exploit that edge,” Michael V. Hayden, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2006. “We also need to protect that edge, and we need to protect those who provide it to us.”

Indeed, Internet industry executives and government officials have acknowledged that Internet traffic passing through the switching equipment of companies based in the United States has proved a distinct advantage for American intelligence agencies. In December 2005, The New York Times reported that the National Security Agency had established a program with the cooperation of American telecommunications firms that included the interception of foreign Internet communications.

Some Internet technologists and privacy advocates say those actions and other government policies may be hastening the shift in Canadian and European traffic away from the United States.

“Since passage of the Patriot Act, many companies based outside of the United States have been reluctant to store client information in the U.S.,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. “There is an ongoing concern that U.S. intelligence agencies will gather this information without legal process. There is particular sensitivity about access to financial information as well as communications and Internet traffic that goes through U.S. switches.”

But economics also plays a role. Almost all nations see data networks as essential to economic development. “It’s no different than any other infrastructure that a country needs,” said K C Claffy, a research scientist at the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis in San Diego. “You wouldn’t want someone owning your roads either.”

Indeed, more countries are becoming aware of how their dependence on other countries for their Internet traffic makes them vulnerable. Because of tariffs, pricing anomalies and even corporate cultures, Internet providers will often not exchange data with their local competitors. They prefer instead to send and receive traffic with larger international Internet service providers.

This leads to odd routing arrangements, referred to as tromboning, in which traffic between two cites in one country will flow through other nations. In January, when a cable was cut in the Mediterranean, Egyptian Internet traffic was nearly paralyzed because it was not being shared by local I.S.P.’s but instead was routed through European operators.

The issue was driven home this month when hackers attacked and immobilized several Georgian government Web sites during the country’s fighting with Russia. Most of Georgia’s access to the global network flowed through Russia and Turkey. A third route through an undersea cable linking Georgia to Bulgaria is scheduled for completion in September.

Ms. Claffy said that the shift away from the United States was not limited to developing countries. The Japanese “are on a rampage to build out across India and China so they have alternative routes and so they don’t have to route through the U.S.”

Andrew M. Odlyzko, a professor at the University of Minnesota who tracks the growth of the global Internet, added, “We discovered the Internet, but we couldn’t keep it a secret.” While the United States carried 70 percent of the world’s Internet traffic a decade ago, he estimates that portion has fallen to about 25 percent.

Internet technologists say that the global data network that was once a competitive advantage for the United States is now increasingly outside the control of American companies. They decided not to invest in lower-cost optical fiber lines, which have rapidly become a commodity business.

That lack of investment mirrors a pattern that has taken place elsewhere in the high-technology industry, from semiconductors to personal computers.

The risk, Internet technologists say, is that upstarts like China and India are making larger investments in next-generation Internet technology that is likely to be crucial in determining the future of the network, with investment, innovation and profits going first to overseas companies.

“Whether it’s a good or a bad thing depends on where you stand,” said Vint Cerf, a computer scientist who is Google’s Internet evangelist and who, with Robert Kahn, devised the original Internet routing protocols in the early 1970s. “Suppose the Internet was entirely confined to the U.S., which it once was? That wasn’t helpful.”

International networks that carry data into and out of the United States are still being expanded at a sharp rate, but the Internet infrastructure in many other regions of the world is growing even more quickly.

While there has been some concern over a looming Internet traffic jam because of the rise in Internet use worldwide, the congestion is generally not on the Internet’s main trunk lines, but on neighborhood switches, routers and the wires into a house.

As Internet traffic moves offshore, it may complicate the task of American intelligence gathering agencies, but would not make Internet surveillance impossible.

“We’re probably in one of those situations where things get a little bit harder,” said John Arquilla, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., who said the United States had invested far too little in collecting intelligence via the Internet. “We’ve given terrorists a free ride in cyberspace,” he said.

Others say the eclipse of the United States as the central point in cyberspace is one of many indicators that the world is becoming a more level playing field both economically and politically.

“This is one of many dimensions on which we’ll have to adjust to a reduction in American ability to dictate terms of core interests of ours,” said Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. “We are, by comparison, militarily weaker, economically poorer and technologically less unique than we were then. We are still a very big player, but not in control.”

China, for instance, surpassed the United States in the number of Internet users in June. Over all, Asia now has 578.5 million, or 39.5 percent, of the world’s Internet users, although only 15.3 percent of the Asian population is connected to the Internet, according to Internet World Stats, a market research organization.

By contrast, there were about 237 million Internet users in North America and the growth has nearly peaked; penetration of the Internet in the region has reached about 71 percent.

The increasing role of new competitors has shown up in data collected annually by Renesys, a firm in Manchester, N.H., that monitors the connections between Internet providers. The Renesys rankings of Internet connections, an indirect measure of growth, show that the big winners in the last three years have been the Italian Internet provider Tiscali, China Telecom and the Japanese telecommunications operator KDDI.

Firms that have slipped in the rankings have all been American: Verizon, Savvis, AT&T, Qwest, Cogent and AboveNet.

“The U.S. telecommunications firms haven’t invested,” said Earl Zmijewski, vice president and general manager for Internet data services at Renesys. “The rest of the world has caught up. I don’t see the AT&T’s and Sprints making the investments because they see Internet service as a commodity.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dorival Caymmi (1914-2008)

August 19, 2008
Dorival Caymmi, Singer of Brazil, Is Dead at 94

Dorival Caymmi, a Brazilian singer and songwriter who helped lay the foundations of bossa nova, wrote Carmen Miranda’s first hit and gave legendary voice to the romance of the beaches, fishing villages and bathing beauties of his native Bahia, died on Saturday at his home in Rio de Janeiro. He was 94.

The cause was multiple organ failure, according to accounts in the Brazilian news media. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president, praised him as “one of the founders of Brazilian popular music.”

Mr. Caymmi’s career encompassed 60 years and about 20 albums, the last one released four years ago. But his influence transcended such measurable milestones and found enduring expression in the music of Brazilian greats like Antonio Carlos Jobim, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.

In an introduction to an anthology of Mr. Caymmi’s work in 1994, Jobim, the driving force behind bossa nova, a sophisticated jazz style derived from samba, wrote: “Dorival is a universal genius. He picked up the guitar and orchestrated the world.”

From the beginning of his career, Mr. Caymmi musically imbued his country with a rhythmic, romantic identity that went well with Brazil’s enticing geography and sultry, bikini-clad women. His first and immediately popular song, written at 16, “O Que É Que a Baiana Tem?” (“What Is It About Brazilian Women?”), set the tone.

That song became the first hit of Carmen Miranda, whose well-displayed limbs, extravagant hats and exuberant voice made her a global sensation as the Brazilian Bombshell. In 1996, the publication News From Brazil said Mr. Caymmi taught Ms. Miranda to move her arms and hands with the music, which became her trademark.

Songs like “Marina” (1944) and “O Samba da Minha Terra” (1941) inspired the greats of bossa nova.

Mr. Caymmi’s easygoing style was compared by some to that of Bing Crosby, not least because of his similar velvety baritone.

The laid-back Andy Williams and Perry Como sang Mr. Caymmi’s “Das Rosas,” translated as “And Roses and Roses” by the American lyricist Ray Gilbert.

Romero Lubambo, a Brazilian guitarist who lives and plays in the United States, said in an telephone interview on Monday that it was impossible to overstate Mr. Caymmi’s public recognition in his own nation.

“Everybody who is alive in Brazil today has probably heard of him,” he said.

Writing in The New York Times in 2001, Ben Ratliff said Mr. Caymmi was perhaps second only to Jobim “in establishing a songbook of this century’s Brazilian identity.” A large part of this was evoking the life and dreams of working-class people, particularly fishermen.

Dorival Caymmi was born on April 30, 1914, in Salvador, the capital of Bahia state. He had several jobs, including that of journalist, and won a songwriting contest in 1936 as part of Salvador’s carnaval. Two years later he went to Rio de Janeiro to study law and perhaps look for a job as a journalist.

But he went into the music business, and firmly established himself with the song Ms. Miranda performed in the movie “Banana-da-Terra” (1939). He became a regular on Radio Nacional, and his fame grew. He recorded for five decades, both singing solo with his own guitar accompaniment and backed by bands and orchestras.

Mr. Caymmi married the singer Adelaide Tostes, who used the stage name Stella Maris. She survives him, along with their sons, Dori and Danilo, and their daughter, Nana, who are all also successful musicians.

News From Brazil reported that Mr. Caymmi’s nearly 70-year marriage survived some carousing on his part. It told of his wife’s finding him in a bar surrounded by women. She slammed a table, broke a glass, punched him, and left.

“He was a hard act to follow,” she said, “but it was worthwhile.”

China's Hip-Hop Grannies shake up tradition

Adrienne Mong / NBC News
A poster advertising a performance by the Hip-Hop Grannies.

China's Hip-Hop Grannies shake up tradition
Posted: Tuesday, August 19, 2008 5:43 AM
Filed Under: Beijing, China
By Adrienne Mong, NBC News Producer

At least twice a week, Wu Ying goes to a local gym in western Beijing to work out. She joins a group of girlfriends and the occasional guy, and for a couple of hours they train with a dance instructor in a glass-walled room surrounded by treadmills and step machines.

The whole scene – some 20-odd people working up a sweat to the insistent beat of hip-hop, under dim fluorescent lights – would be unremarkable if not for the fact that Wu is 70 years old.

Wu, aka China’s pre-eminent Hip-Hop Granny, is a nimble Beijing native with an expressive face and elastic body. She has been performing hip-hop routines since 2003 when she saw the first National Hip-Hop Dancing Competition on Chinese television.

"The competitors were all young people, wearing headscarves, headdresses, hats, and various clothes," recounted Wu, a retired accountant who was 66 at the time. "I thought that was very fresh."

Inspired by "the look they had in their eyes, the way they moved their fingers, heads and bodies," Wu thought hip-hop dancing would be perfect for herself and China’s aged and infirm.

"The elderly don’t like to move too much," she added. (She’s right. Even though legions of elderly Chinese can be seen exercising in city parks across the country at dawn and dusk, they tend to favor slower-tempo activities like Tai Chi or ballroom dances such as waltzing.)

Wu set out to learn hip-hop dancing at a local gym and to study whatever she could about the activity. She also began looking to put together a five-member troupe to promote hip-hop dancing by touring the country and by performing on Chinese TV.

‘Hip-hop is merely for young people’
But not many other Chinese pensioners thought the same as Wu, who scoured Beijing high and low, targeting parks, community centres, and schools for continuing education.

"[People] said, ‘Hip-hop? What is hip-hop? Is that a sport for you? Hip-hop is merely for young people. How old are you? You are 66 and you want to dance hip-hop? Don't be ridiculous!’" laughed Wu as she described people’s initial reaction to her idea. Even her own daughter was embarrassed by the thought of a hip-hop mom and scoffed at the notion, provoking a rift between them that lasted days.

Eventually, Wu found four other women willing to try out, and they formed a team in February 2004. Six months and many rehearsals later, the Hip-Hop Granny Dance Team made its debut at the Beijing qualifier for the National Hip-Hop Dancing Competition.

The Grannies – whose average age was 60 at the time – faced off people several decades younger. "They were professionals," Wu said. "We seniors didn’t know much so we were very nervous." But their daily rehearsal routines paid off; the women walked off with third prize.

They haven’t looked back since, garnering further prizes and accolades every year. Moreover, Wu’s 48-year-old daughter, Guo Zhe, now appreciates her mother’s dancing and even occasionally joins in.

The Hip-Hop Grannies have also drawn many more members. Over the years, they’ve attracted at least 1,000 different women.

Among them is a 74-year-old who just began learning – she’s the oldest member.

And there is the odd man who tries it out. But in the same period, the group has only attracted five men.

Wu shrugged when asked why so few men participate. "They don’t like to move so much at that age?" she speculated.

Dancing for mental health
The physical health payoff from dancing hip-hop might appear obvious, but some of the members raved about the mental benefits.

Liu Jian Zhu, a 59-year-old former pharmacist with the Chinese air force, said dancing hip-hop has been "a breakthrough" for her.

"Since I was in the military, my life had been required to be serious and intense," Liu explained. "It has really changed my life and personality."

Wen Di, 55, used to work as a railroad construction technician, but after retiring just last year she wanted to find something to fill what she called the emptiness in her life.

"I saw Wu's dancing on TV and thought that it was very inspiring," she said, eagerly demonstrating some impressive hip-hop moves for us.

A rejuvenating presence
It might be a bad pun, but Wu – who works out for two and a half hours twice a week (more when it’s competition season) – is a rejuvenating presence.

Although she comes from a generation that lived through some of modern China’s most tumultuous decades, including the stifling Cultural Revolution era (when western cultural thought and influences were banned), her optimism is refreshing.

"We represent a new image, a new fashion for Chinese grandmothers," said Wu. "We develop with time and connect with the world. We don’t just learn our own Chinese culture. We learn cultures from other countries to enrich ourselves and our lives to lead a more colorful and high-quality life."

Wu said she plans to dance for as long as she physically can, adding that, "I think that dancing hip-hop has made me younger, happier, [and] improved my memory."

Perhaps the only drawback is that with the stress of competition her shoulder-length hair has finally succumbed to age. "It turned grey when we began entering competitions," she said, rolling her eyes in mock frustration. "I only just started coloring it in the past couple of years!"

Sunday, August 17, 2008

In Praise of Broadway Orchestration

August 17, 2008
Off the Stage, What’s Behind the Music

YOU can hear the collective gasp from the audience as the stage of the Vivian Beaumont slides back to the opening bars of “Bali Ha’i,” revealing 30 formally attired musicians reveling in the lush, exotic hues of the overture to “South Pacific.”

The melodies that roll seamlessly by — “There Is Nothing Like a Dame,” “A Wonderful Guy,” “Some Enchanted Evening” — are all classic Richard Rodgers. But the instruments playing them, the elaborate counter lines, shifting harmonies and alternating rhythmic contexts, are the work of Robert Russell Bennett, his orchestrator. Mr. Bennett wrote the overture, too (as he did for virtually all of his clients, including Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Frederick Loewe), weaving together excerpts of the score’s famous melodies to create a seamless potpourri of its greatest hits. Similarly, Sid Ramin’s original orchestrations bring to life Jule Styne’s score for “Gypsy,” now playing with the full complement of 25 pieces at the St. James Theater.

The size and sound of the “South Pacific” and “Gypsy” ensembles are far from today’s Broadway norm of smaller, heavily miked pit bands. But virtually all musicals of any vintage or scale have long been dependent on orchestrators for their aural color and character. Imagine “Mamma Mia!” on a lone guitar or “The Phantom of the Opera” on piano. Mel Brooks may be a brilliant writer and director, but without Doug Besterman’s orchestrations, his music for “Young Frankenstein” would sound bland. The same is true of countless Broadway scores through the years.

The composer-performer Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” won the Tony Awards for best musical and best score. Mr. Miranda’s secret weapons? Bill Sherman and Alex Lacamoire, who transcribed, arranged and orchestrated the show. (The two won the Tony for best orchestrations.)

Working from as little as a hummed melody to as much as a keyboard arrangement, the orchestrator at the most basic level assigns instruments to create the full score; more importantly, he or she interprets the composer’s intentions. “It’s as much a creative job as the composer’s,” said Paul Gemignani, Stephen Sondheim’s music director of choice and perhaps the most powerful Broadway conductor working today. “The same thought process, the same agonizing, the same artistic decisions made by an actor have to be made by the orchestrator. The best orchestrators” — he mentioned Michael Starobin and Jonathan Tunick — “write movie music for the theater. Orchestration is the warmth in a love scene, the electricity in the kiss, the thing that makes you start to tear up. And it has to come from the gut.”

Audiences may not realize it, said the “Gypsy” music director, Patrick Vaccariello, “but the orchestration supports the journey of the entire piece.”

The choice of orchestrator is generally left to the composer. Just as Rodgers chose Mr. Bennett (among others), so Mr. Sondheim uses Mr. Starobin (the original “Sunday in the Park With George,” “Assassins”) or Mr. Tunick (“Sweeney Todd,” “Company”), Stephen Schwartz chose William David Brohn for “Wicked,” and Michael Holland is revamping Mr. Schwartz’s original “Godspell” score for its run at the Ethel Barrymore (set to open Oct. 23). Martin Koch is Elton John’s orchestrator for “Billy Elliot,” scheduled to open Nov. 13 at the Imperial Theater.

When the composer is deceased, the choice of orchestrator is generally left to the music director. For the revival of Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s “Pal Joey,” scheduled to open Dec. 11 at the Roundabout’s Studio 54, Mr. Gemignani asked the veteran arranger-composer Don Sebesky to create an orchestration for 15 pieces based on the original 1940 piano-vocal score.

“Normally you have to reorchestrate,” Mr. Gemignani said of revivals. (Not everyone agrees with him on this point.) “It’s not that the originals are no good, but shows get revamped. You have to make the numbers work for the people in them.”

Downsizing is the norm these days, mostly because of space and economics. “We’re being asked to write for smaller and smaller bands all the time,” Mr. Starobin said. “Everybody’s oohing and aahing about ‘South Pacific,’ but nobody’s saying: ‘Hey! Let’s use big orchestras again.’ Producers don’t want to put money into the music; they’d rather spend $3 million on the scenery.”

Today’s Broadway orchestras range in size from 1 (keyboard for “[title of show]”) to 30 (“South Pacific”), with most in the 8-to-14 range. Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians has been battling the shrinking-orchestra issue for years; its current contract with the Broadway League sets musician minimums for specific theaters: from 19 for the Broadway, Minskoff, St. James and Marquis theaters to 4 for the Longacre and Nederlander theaters, barring special situations like the one governing “[title of show]” at the Lyceum.

Space is also an issue: open sections of Broadway pits were long ago shorn up for the addition of seats. Often the musicians are under the stage or even in separate rooms from one another — not to mention the audience — relying on the conductor’s image on a monitor. “Jersey Boys” splits its offstage band into three rooms at the August Wilson Theater; the entire orchestra for “A Chorus Line” is in the basement of the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater; the percussion for “Legally Blonde” is piped in from a room on the third floor of the Palace Theater.

Today’s Broadway orchestras are basically treated like recording studios; acoustic instruments, to the extent that there are any, are closely miked and then mixed by an engineer. It’s a practice abhorred by musicians (“You may as well just give them a CD and go home,” Mr. Gemignani said) but favored by producers, largely because of cost.

“The dread of my job,” says Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, which represents work by its namesakes (and many others), “is when producers ask, ‘How few musicians can we get away with?’ ”

It all comes down to economics. Depending on orchestra size, orchestrators get as much as $50 to $100 per four-bar page, with most Broadway scores being 600 to 800 pages. Add the musicians who play their creations, plus copying and contractor fees, and the per-show cost can be staggering. Small wonder commercial producers try to keep their orchestras small.

Some orchestrators consider themselves “guns for hire,” as Mr. Starobin does. Others, like Mr. Tunick, are more protective of their work. Essentially, they are paid for the initial run of a show and any recording, and that’s it. There are no royalties from future performances; those go to the composer.

Mr. Starobin is now reducing his original charts for the musical “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to 10 pieces from 14. Asked how best to reorchestrate, he responded, “The best way to do it is to not do it.”

Drama Desk voters singled out the recent revival of “Sunday in the Park With George” for outstanding orchestrations, a case in which the original orchestration was reduced. Mr. Starobin’s charts for the 1984 original Broadway production called for 11 instruments. Jason Carr is credited with orchestrating the Roundabout Theater’s revival, for which he reduced Mr. Starobin’s original arrangements and instrumental colors to just five instruments, making judicious use of a synthesizer.

What happened? Were the producers too cheap to allow six more instruments into the theater? “It was part of a particular artistic concept the director had,” said Todd Haimes, Roundabout’s artistic director. “The show had been in a small theater in London. Then when it came over here, Steve Sondheim was asked if he was happy with the way it sounded. He said yes, so there was never a discussion about increasing the size. If he had said, ‘No, it can’t come to New York unless there are 11 musicians,’ we probably would have accommodated that.”

Mr. Gemignani said: “Sondheim, to his credit, is very generous with his own work. Had that been Jule Styne or Richard Rodgers, the response would have been: ‘Excuse me, this score was originally orchestrated for 20 people. Get them in here, or the show’s not happening.’ ”

1987 Jerry Wexler Interview

Courtesy of Karl Signell.
Abstract and audio clips on file and the Digital Repository of the University of Maryland (DRUM). Interview available here for educational and personal use.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Torajans of Sulawesi (Indonesia) live to die

LA Times
The Torajans of Sulawesi live to die
After decades of planning for their funerals, the dead wait months, even years, for their last rites while relatives negotiate arrangements for the perfect send-off.
By Paul Watson
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

6:44 PM PDT, August 13, 2008

BUNTU KALANDO, INDONESIA — The last king of Toraja was 93 when he took his final breath in July 2003. Five years later, he's still part of the family, quietly residing in a small room in his former palace, shaded by two red parasols decorated with colored beads and gold fringe.

By Torajan tradition, he isn't really dead. He's just sick. The late monarch won't be gone for good until he has been laid to rest with traditional rites featuring the slaughter of scores of water buffaloes, at least one of them a rare spotted specimen.

The unhurried passage from this world to the next isn't reserved for former rulers. It is central to the culture of Torajans, an ethnic group in southern Sulawesi island whose customs are a hybrid of ancient tribal traditions and Protestant Christianity.

The dead wait months, even years, for their last rites while relatives negotiate funeral arrangements, everything from the right timing to allow mourners to travel long distances, to where they will stay and who will feed them.

Corpses used to be dried with herbal elixirs and smoldering fires, but the old ways have largely died out, replaced by washtub embalming fluid made with formaldehyde.

A village mortician schooled in the old ways gave the late king's body the royal treatment with natural preservatives. It took more than 320 yards of cloth to wrap his mummy, a simple task compared with the long negotiations and complex preparations for his funeral.

"Torajans are very sensitive about this because the funeral is our last honor," said Eddy Sambolinggi, the youngest son of the last king, Puang Sambolinggi. "Everything has to be carefully planned."

In many ways, Torajans spend a lifetime preparing for their demise, saving for the essentials, such as their burial clothes and bamboo shelters for guests. They also have to budget for funeral donations to other families, while pampering and fattening up water buffaloes for sacrifice.

"Torajans," Sambolinggi, 56, said cheerfully, "they live to die."

It has taken his family five years to agree on a send-off befitting Puang Sambolinggi, which is now planned for October. The farewell is shaping up to be the last grand funeral in Torajan history, the final chapter of a royal history that dates back centuries.

Sambolinggi's reign saw the death of an ancient dynasty in Tana Toraja, or the Land of Toraja. He held the throne for only a year until, just days after Japan surrendered in August 1945, Indonesia declared independence from the Dutch and abolished tribal monarchies. But tribal tradition lives on.

Anthropologists believe Torajans are descended from voyagers who sailed from southern China as early as 3,000 BC. Though Christianity and the modern world have worn away at tradition, ancient beliefs called aluk to dolo, or the way of the ancestors, still guide many Torajans, especially when someone dies.

Legend says the design of their homes, called tongkonan, came from heaven. The wood-framed buildings face north, toward the land of the creator. The dead are always placed in a room at the back so they can face south, where the ancestors live in heaven.

The houses' bamboo roofs are shaped like boats, with a high bow and stern, which some believe honor the vessels their ancestors sailed to Sulawesi. The homes' central pillars are decorated with a row of horns from water buffaloes slaughtered at family funerals.

A good buffalo is a Torajan status symbol, and people go through life pleased that their burials won't be rushed, leaving mourners time to find the cash for fine specimens to slaughter. The donations required for a royal funeral give Torajans more than the usual pause.

"We have to wait until the whole family is ready," Sambolinggi said. "For instance, there's me and my siblings. Perhaps I am able to contribute a number of buffaloes, while my siblings still have to wait and save some money. We all have to agree, because for this funeral the number we're talking about isn't small."

Up to 80 buffaloes will be sacrificed in front of tens of thousands of mourners. Just counting relatives, Sambolinggi said, there will be 100,000 guests, many of whom will journey hundreds of miles.

Family members have also dickered over whether the body will be buried next to the late king's father or mother, Sambolinggi added.

Until the plans are settled, and relatives bid their final farewells, the late king, wrapped in cloth and encased in a wooden coffin, lies in repose just up the stairs from his youngest son's private museum of old spears, beaded dresses and other tribal artifacts. Sambolinggi regularly talks to his father, not in a way anyone else could hear, he said, but silently, from his heart.

"For the past five years, he's been with us, sleeping upstairs," Sambolinggi said. "We still prepare his place at the dining table. And for instance, if we go to the capital city, we have a big feast, and we save some for him."

When the king died, in the normal sense of the word, his son called in an undertaker to make a mummy of him the old-fashioned way, without embalming fluid.

The mortician died soon after, taking some of the secrets of Torajan mummification to his grave. But Sambolinggi watched him closely at work, and his memory preserves a vivid remnant of a centuries-old ritual.

His father's corpse was cleansed with tea mixed with warm water and soap chopped into little pieces. Then the mortician poured about three bottles of vinegar, a little at a time, down the late king's throat.

A small rope, used to tie a water buffalo by the nose, was retrieved from the ground where it had fallen in the animal's pen, cut into pieces and sprinkled on the body so that the tether could go with him to heaven. Then the corpse was wrapped in cloth, tightly bound in three places with coconut fronds.

"After that, there was a little magic," Sambolinggi said. "The man who performed the ritual put a black stone pot, like a cooking pot, in the corner of the room. He told us not to touch it, and warned that if we did, the body would be damaged."

A week later, Sambolinggi smelled a foul odor, which he suspected was wafting from his father's body. He quickly summoned the undertaker.

"He checked and said that it was not the body that smelled bad, but there were many other dead persons' spirits around," Sambolinggi recalled. "He asked me if I'd heard any banging sounds on the door lately, and I said yes. "

Spirits had come knocking, the mortician said, and his magic chased them off. The smell, and apparently the ghosts, never came back. Any lingering doubts Sambolinggi had about the wisdom of Torajan tradition vanished with them.

His father's remains probably will be sealed in a royal tomb carved out of the nearby Suaya cliff, where his brother-in-law's coffin was laid to rest July 15, just as dozens of royals have been through the centuries, including the late king's ancestors.

Like wide-eyed marionettes gathering dust on a puppeteer's shelf, life-size wooden dolls representing the dead stare down from balconies outside their tombs. Relatives look up to greet them when they bring offerings, such as cigarettes, palm wine or bottled water, that they carefully set on small tables at the bottom of the cliff.

Because Torajans take their obligations to the dead so seriously, parents who can't afford to donate a pig, let alone a buffalo, for sacrifice at a funeral often pledge a kind of IOU, which their children must fulfill to maintain the family honor.

With the funeral season running from June to October, the driest months of the year, sacrificial debts can quickly add up. An ordinary black water buffalo costs at least $5,500, a heavy price for Torajans, most of whom are rice farmers. (A shortage of the finest spotted buffaloes has driven the price up 25% over last year, to almost $14,000.)

And then there are taxes they must pay on each head of livestock delivered for sacrifice: $16 for a buffalo, $9 for a pig. Custom demands a minimum of six buffaloes be slaughtered at each funeral, but competition for status usually pushes the number higher.

Funerals have become so expensive that many young Torajans are moving away to cities, or even other countries such as Malaysia, in search of better jobs so they can keep up with the demands as relatives die. An estimated 450,000 people live in Tana Toraja, and 200,000 others have left the region.

A Torajan funeral doesn't have to be fit for a king to be costly. More than 7,000 mourners attended a three-day ceremony last month for Augustina Tambing, the wife of a primary school principal. Half a year after her death, they gathered to see her off to heaven with the sacrifice of eight water buffaloes and more than 150 squealing pigs.

Yohanes Rumeri, chief of Buntu Masakke village, sat behind a plywood counter at the entrance to the funeral, with a ledger and a bottle of correction fluid, recording each donor's name, the animal they delivered and the tax they paid.

The money would be shared among the regional government, the local church and the village administration, the chief said.

"Honestly, it is a burden," said Tambing's daughter Yatti Parassa, 45. "But this is our family. We are still close because we've been attending funerals for ages. So we're not going to lose the family ties. Our families live far apart, but for this event, they all come together."

Tambing, 68, died Jan. 13 after 49 years of marriage to her husband, Izak Rigu Parassa. She bore him seven children, who watched along with 20 grandchildren and a great-grandchild as butchers led buffaloes by their tethers into the funeral, and with a theatrical slash of a long knife, slit each animal's throat.

Just across from the skinned carcasses lying in coagulating pools of blood, Tambing's family formed a choir. As a gentle rain fell, they wept and sang, "Jesus comes into the world, Jesus comes to help the sick."

Her 71-year-old husband sat nearby, pinching the bridge of his nose in silent prayer, exhausted after a long goodbye to the love of his life. He took comfort in the thought that she was still with him, watching her own funeral.

"I think she is pleased," he said, with a broad, toothless smile.

The French Horn, That Wild Card of the Orchestra

August 13, 2008
The French Horn, That Wild Card of the Orchestra

Orchestral instruments don’t come more treacherous than the French horn, either for the musicians who play it, or, when the going gets rough, for the listeners who find themselves within earshot. Sometimes you wonder how the instrument found its way from the hunting lodge to the orchestra.

At the Mostly Mozart Festival in recent weeks, the intractable early version of the horn has made its way into the Rose Theater as a series of period-instrument bands from Germany, England and Italy performed music ranging from Italian Baroque choral works to Mozart opera. When these groups were at their best, a listener whose fondness for period instruments dates to the 1960s could reflect on how far the performance standard has risen since.

In those days period ensembles that sounded vigorous on disc often proved anemic in concert, and the instruments’ antique technology was regularly blamed for mediocre performances. Nowadays, the performances are more typically extroverted and expressive, and although period instruments, by definition, have not been modernized to make them easier to play, listeners are no longer asked to consider their difficulty when a performance goes awry.

Except, that is, when the horn notes crack and slither. The horn remains the wild card in period-instrument orchestras, and in modern ones too. And if you find yourself cringing when horn players falter badly — as I did on Aug. 5, when Concerto Italiano played three Vivaldi concertos with prominent horn parts — caveats about the instrument’s intransigence come quickly to mind.

It’s worth understanding the challenges hornists face. In its 17th- and 18th-century form, the horn is basically just a long, flared pipe wound into two or three coils, with a mouthpiece on the end. What it lacks, compared with today’s horn, is the valve mechanism: the complex tubing and finger keys at the center of a modern horn that let hornists play chromatically and in different keys.

Without recourse to valves, hornists are most at home in the relatively few notes in the overtone series that come naturally to a bit of coiled metal: mainly, the notes you hear in hunting and military calls. As the music grows more complex, the technical demands escalate. One resource hornists have is hand-stopping: by putting a hand inside the instrument’s bell, they can flatten the pitch to produce chromatic notes.

When everything goes right, hornists can work miracles. You need only have heard James Sommerville, the Boston Symphony’s principal hornist, play Elliott Carter’s Horn Concerto at Tanglewood a few weeks ago to know how chromatic (and lyrical) a horn line can be. But you can see the potential for pitch problems. And a bit of condensation from a player’s breath adhering to the inside of a coil can lead to cracked notes, or “clams.”

As is often the case, when Concerto Italiano’s hornists were good, they were great. Their sound had a fascinatingly gritty texture, much closer to the horn’s hunting-party origins than to the mellow, warm sound of a modern instrument. But when they were off — oh, dear, what a mess!

Strangely, some believe that period horn playing is meant to sound thus. When I was in music school, I had a job in a record store and would sometimes stay after hours to listen to new releases. One was a period-instrument recording of Handel’s “Water Music” on which the horns were consistently flat. When I crinkled my nose, the store’s manager said, dismissively:

“Oh, you don’t understand. It’s only because of showoffs like Don Smithers” — a brilliant Baroque trumpeter who was also my music history teacher at the time — “that people think these instruments can be played in tune. But they aren’t meant to be.”

I didn’t buy that argument then, and having heard many superb Baroque hornists, I find it less tenable now.

For some reason — maybe it’s a little-documented, mouth-drying effect of global warming — the last season was particularly rough for hornists. In a concert of Brahms and Schumann works at the 92nd Street Y in December, the usually reliable David Jolley became ensnared in every tangle a hornist can encounter (or create), including serious balance issues in ensemble pieces. And visiting orchestras seemed more prone than usual to horn flaws.

But surely the most catastrophic horn performance of the season — of many seasons, for that matter — was at the New York Philharmonic in March, when Alan Gilbert, conducting his first concert with the orchestra since having been appointed its next music director, opened his program with Haydn’s Symphony No. 48, a work with two prominent and perilous horn parts.

The Philharmonic has long been action central for horn troubles; its principal player, Philip Myers, is wildly inconsistent, and the rest of the section is also accident-prone. Much of the time Mr. Myers’s playing is squarely on pitch, shapely and warm, and when it is, it’s everything you want in a French horn line. But he cracks, misses or slides into pitches often enough that when the Philharmonic plays a work with a prominent horn line, you brace yourself and wonder if he’ll make it.

The Haydn symphony was a real clambake.

Mentioning hornists’ failings in reviews invariably brings plenty of e-mail messages, often from people who did not hear the performances but feel moved to defend a player’s reputation. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of these correspondents have variations on the word horn (“corno” or “horncall,” for example) in their e-mail addresses, and they usually identify themselves as hornists, as if their addresses didn’t make that clear.

In the case of the Haydn, some offered amazing conspiracy theories. The most interesting was that Mr. Gilbert had programmed the work knowing that it would be botched, so that he would later have reason to replace Mr. Myers. (Mr. Gilbert doesn’t seem that Machiavellian.) Another blamed the orchestra’s management for allowing Mr. Gilbert to program it.

Still others offered technical excuses: that the work requires a variety of horn that Mr. Myers doesn’t play, for instance. (That an orchestra’s programming is announced months in advance — ample time to deal with such technical problems or lobby to have the work replaced — seems not to have troubled anyone.)

Of about a dozen e-mail messages, all but one correspondent found someone other than the players to blame for the performance. A few blamed me: I am supposedly a raging cornophobe with some deep-seated resentment of horns and hornists.

To the contrary. I played the horn briefly as a teenager, somewhere between the violin and the trombone (which had a nicer bite), and I gave up brass instruments only when I realized that continuing would mean spending weekends marching around at football games in a dopey band uniform. It was the late 1960s; that kind of thing just wasn’t done.

Nearly a decade later, as a composition student, I revisited the instrument and what it could (ideally) do when I wrote an unaccompanied horn piece and a quartet for horn, violin, bassoon and percussion (what was I thinking?) for a hornist friend.

I like the horn, honest. And I know how difficult it is to get a good, centered, well-tuned sound out of it.

But here’s the thing about musical performance: It’s all difficult. It’s meant to be. Composers write, and have always written, music that pushes the limits of technique. And if you’re onstage in a professional capacity, you’re expected to be able to negotiate it. That’s the least audiences expect, and it’s a precondition for what they buy tickets for: to be moved by an interpretation; to savor its nuances and to hear something revelatory, whether the work is new or familiar.

If, instead, they end up wincing at mistuned notes and reminding themselves how tough the instruments are, they’ve been pushed out of the zone. And at that point, no amount of rationalization will make the performance anything but a sow’s ear.

Monday, August 04, 2008

A Textbook Example of Ranking Artworks

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August 4, 2008
A Textbook Example of Ranking Artworks

Ask David Galenson to name the single greatest work of art from the 20th century, and he unhesitatingly answers “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” a 1907 painting by Picasso.

He can then tell you with certainty Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on, as well.

His confidence in the ranking doesn’t come from a stack of degrees in art history (though he has read a lot on the subject). After all, Mr. Galenson is an economist at the University of Chicago who initially specialized in colonial America. But during the past 10 years he has turned his attention to artists and creativity, convinced that the type of economic analysis that explains the $4-plus gas at the pump can also explain the greatest artists of the last 100 or so years.

His statistical approach has led to what he says is a radically new interpretation of 20th-century art, one he is certain art historians will hate. It is based in part on how frequently an illustration of a work appears in textbooks.

“Quantification has been almost totally absent from art history,” he said. “Art historians hate markets.”

To Mr. Galenson markets are what make the 20th century completely different from other eras for art. In earlier periods artists created works for rich patrons generally in the court or the church, which functioned as a monopoly. Only in the 20th century did art enter the marketplace and become a commodity, like a stick of butter or an Hermès bag. In this system, he said, breaking the rules became the most valued attribute. The greatest rewards went to conceptual innovators who frequently changed styles and invented genres. For the first time the idea behind the work of art became more important than the physical object itself.

Economists, of course, have turned their attention to the art world before. Thorstein Veblen, in his 1899 classic, “Theory of the Leisure Class,” discussed how the newly moneyed turned everything, including art, into elements of conspicuous consumption. But over all, economic theories of art are still relatively rare.

In the preface to his 2000 book “Creative Industries,” the Harvard economist Richard E. Caves said that decades earlier he had come up with the idea but “thought it best postponed to a time when my reputation for professional seriousness could more comfortably be placed at risk.”

In 2002 Mr. Galenson discussed his theories about creativity in the book “Painting Outside the Lines.” Then, two years ago, he published “Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity,” arguing that young innovators have a flash of inspiration that upends the existing order in an instant. There are old geniuses too, he said, but their approach is vastly different. They are what he labeled “experimentalists,” who develop their work gradually through years of trial and error.

His theory of creativity was based in part on examining auction prices. His approach was hailed by some as a breakthrough, and this spring he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship to pursue his research.

Others find the work misconceived, however. Victor Ginsburgh, an economist at the European Center for Advanced Research in Economics and Statistics, argued that the distinction between conceptualists and experimentalists is specious.

But what most bothers Mr. Galenson is his dismissal by art experts who, he writes in his forthcoming book, “almost unanimously refused to acknowledge the value that quantitative methods could have in their field.”

He intends to push his theories further in the book, which will take on the entire last century in art. Since many of the most important individual works rarely, if ever, come to market, he decided to use art history textbooks to value each piece. He tallied the number of illustrations of each piece in the 33 textbooks he found that were published between 1990 and 2005, on the assumption that the most important works merited the most illustrations.

“Important artists are innovators whose work changes the practices of their successors,” Mr. Galenson declares in his book. “The greater the changes, the greater the artist.”

“Demoiselles” came in at No. 1 with 28 illustrations. Vladimir Tatlin’s “Monument to the Third International” (1919-20), a plan for a celebratory tower, came in second with 25 illustrations. “Spiral Jetty,” a gigantic earthwork coil that Robert Smithson planted in the Great Salt Lake in Utah 1970, came in third with 23, followed by Richard Hamilton’s “Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?,” a 1956 collage widely considered to be the first Pop Art, with 22. Umberto Boccioni’s 1913 bronze sculpture “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space” tied Picasso’s “Guernica” (1937) with 21. Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 “Fountain” — a white urinal — was seventh with 18 illustrations, and his 1912 painting “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” was eighth with 16.

Some of these conceptual innovators — like Mr. Hamilton, Boccioni and Tatlin — are one-hit wonders, he acknowledges; they made a single breakthrough, even if they don’t rank among the best artists.

Michael Rushton, who teaches the economics of art at Indiana University, said that Mr. Galenson was on to something; in science or art, he said, “innovation really requires a market.”

Charles M. Gray, co-author of “The Economics of Art and Culture,” said, “We all want to believe there is something special about the arts, but I don’t buy that there is a difference between artistic and economic value.” The accurately priced piece will capture all of those intangibles as well, he said.

Art experts, not surprisingly, are more skeptical. “The economic notion of artists is interesting for art historians to have to grapple with,” John Elderfield, chief curator emeritus at the Museum of Modern Art, said when Mr. Galenson’s theory was described to him. “These are works in the histories that we tell of modern art. They seem to be milestones, and that’s fair enough.” But he cautioned that this approach could only go so far. “There are great, great things being made which are not reducible to statistics.”

In the hard and social sciences the number of citations — when other academics mention a work — is a standard way of gauging a thinker’s importance. Mr. Gray, Mr. Rushton and other economists like Don Thompson, author of “The $12 Million Stuffed Shark,” generally judged the counting of illustrations as a valid measure.

But Mr. Elderfield said that just as decisions about new exhibitions are based on what has already been exhibited, textbooks tend to reproduce images that have been used before. “It becomes a self-justifying system,” he said.

Mr. Elderfield added that well-known and accessible pieces tend to get reproduced more frequently. “Demoiselles” got a lot of attention when the Museum of Modern Art rescued it from obscurity in 1939, Mr. Elderfield said, whereas Picasso’s 1908 painting “Three Women” was in the Hermitage’s collection in St. Petersburg, Russia, and out of reach to the West until 1970. Before then no art book pictured “Three Women,” he said, although now it is frequently reproduced.

Arthur C. Danto, art critic for The Nation and an author of books on art, said that textbooks go through trends and have in recent years represented many more women, African-Americans and American Indians. “The art world itself became politicized,” he said, “and that has affected textbooks and the illustrations.”

A greater obstacle for Mr. Elderfield, however, are Mr. Galenson’s conclusions. “Particularly in a society that values the progressive, there is an instinct to make great and influential the same thing,” he said, “but they aren’t necessarily.”

About the ranking, Mr. Elderfield said, “Frankly, it’s preposterous.” Pressed to create a list off the top of his head, he said he would include “Demoiselles” and “Fountain,” but add Matisse’s “Red Studio,” a Cézanne “Bathers,” Malevich’s “White on White” (“a really extreme work,” he said), Miró’s “Birth of the World,” a big Pollock splatter painting, a Warhol sequence of Marilyn Monroe, Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie Woogie” and a Jasper Johns American flag.

Mr. Galenson’s list doesn’t even live up to his own criterion, Mr. Elderfield added. Mr. Hamilton’s “Just What Is It?,” he said, is “a reactive work much more than a provoking work.” And “where’s Surrealism, which really had an effect?”

Mr. Danto said: “I don’t see the method as anything except circular. The frequency of an illustration doesn’t seem to me to really explain what makes an idea good.

“Somewhere along the line you’ve got to find answers to why it’s so interesting.”