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Some of these things are coincidences, some not:

  1. The Bad Plus premeired their arrangement of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at Duke University on March 26, 2011.
  2. I happened to be at Duke University that day because the day before I presented “Torture” at the Economics Department.
  3. Atila Abdulkadiroglu and Bahar Leventoglu are my two favorite people in the whole world.
  4. After the show we met the band at a bar and had many drinks and fine conversation.
  5. Columbia B-School economist Maria Guadalupe was also there.
  6. Along with Philip Sadowski that brought the total number of economists enjoying free drinks on The Bad Plus to five.
  7. Maria’s sister is Cristina Guadalupe who collaborated on the visual arts aspect of the performance.
  8. Along with Philip’s wife that brought the total number of Spanish visual artists to two.
  9. Cristina is also married to the bass player Reid Anderson.
  10. And that is partly because Columbia B-school economist Bocachan Celen brought Maria to a Bad Plus performance and somehow this led to Reid meeting Cristina.
  11. Ethan Iverson does not want a MacArthur Fellowship.
  12. You can hear a recording of that night’s performance of The Rite of Spring here.

If I had to describe my feeling about the performance that night then I would probably procrastinate by doing something else because that’s how I tend to respond when I have to do something.  If I didn’t have to then I would say that it was a night I will never forget.

Drawing:  Spring from


We are reading it in my Behavioral Economics class and so far we have finished the first 5 chapters which make up Part I of the book “Anticipating Future Preferences.” In Ran Spiegler’s typical style, perfectly crafted simple models are used to illustrate deep ideas that lie at the heart of existing frontier research and, no doubt, future research this book is bound to inspire.

A nod also has to go to Kfir Eliaz who is Rani’s longtime collaborator on many of the papers that preceded this book.  Indeed, in a better world they would form a band.  It would be a early ’90s geek-rock band like They Might Be Giants or whichever band it was that did The Sweater Song.  I hereby name their band Hasty Belgium. (Names of other bands here.)

Many of the examples in the book are referred to as “close variations of” or “free variations of” papers in the literature.  And Rani has even written a paper that he calls “a cover version of” a paper by Heidhues and Koszegi.  So to continue the metaphor, I offer here some liner notes for the book.

In chapter 5 there is a fantastic distillation of a model due to Michael Grubb that explains Netflix pricing.  Conventional models of price discrimination cannot explain three-part tariffs:  a membership fee, a low initial per-unit price, and then a high per-unit price that kicks in above some threshold quantity.  (Netflix is the extreme case where the initial price per movie is zero, and above some number the price is infinite.) Rani constructs the simplest and clearest possible model to show how such a pricing system is the optimal way to take advantage of consumers who are over-confident in their beliefs about their future demand.

A conventional approach to pricing would be to set price equal to marginal cost, thereby incentivizing the consumer to demand the efficient quantity, and then adding on a membership fee that extracts all of his surplus.  You can think of this as the Blockbuster model.  The Netflix model by contrast reduces the per-unit price to zero (up to some monthly allotment) but raises the membership fee.

Here’s how that increases profits.  Many of us mistakenly think we will watch lots of movies.  Netflix re-arranges the pricing structure so that the total amount we expect to pay when we watch all of those movies is the same as in the Blockbuster model.  Just now we are paying it all in the form of a membership fee.  If it turns out that we watch as many movies as we anticipated, we are no better or worse off and neither is Netflix.

But in fact most of us discover that we are always too busy to watch movies. In the Blockbuster system when that happens we don’t watch movies and so we don’t pay per-unit prices and we Blockbuster doesn’t make much money. In the Netflix system it doesn’t matter how many movies we watch, because we already paid.

My only complaint about the book is the title.  (Not for those reasons, no.)  The term “Bounded Rationality” has fallen out of favor and for good reason.  It’s pejorative and it doesn’t really mean anything.  A more contemporary title would have been Behavioral Industrial Organization.  Now I agree that “Behavioral” is at least as meaningless as “Bounded Rationality.”  Indeed it has even less meaning. But that’s a virtue because we don’t have any good word for whatever “Bounded Rationality” and “Behavioral” are supposed to mean. So I prefer a word that has no meaning at all than “Bounded Rationality” which suggests a meaning that is misplaced.

If I was nominating for the MacArthur fellowships…

In advance of The Bad Plus’ world premiere of The Rite of Spring, Ethan Iverson drops this monster blog post about Stravinsky, 20th century music, and writing. You should read the whole thing.

On a piece called the Ebony Concerto:

While the Ebony Concerto is not jazz, it is a deconstructed big band piece, and therefore a great introduction to Stravinsky for a jazz musician.

It is barely a concerto, though, for the clarinetist is featured only occasionally.  In the middle movement, the soloist only plays a couple of phrases!  Clearly Stravinsky didn’t trust the work’s commissioner, Woody Herman.

On the box it is Benny Goodman, a real virtuoso.  But he didn’t play the middle movement; Charles Russo stood in instead.

But perhaps because the star was out of the room, it’s the best movement.   It is played much slower than the given tempo marking, the saxophones use a real jazz sound and phrase with some swing, and the hapless harpist plays a huge wrong note the second time through.  (Perfect.)  The final result is possibly the bluesiest classical recording in existence.

On deciphering Stravinsky’s odd meters:

Mystic circle
Gah! This is two bars of four, not a bar of five and a bar of four!  The best musical point would be make that dry ostinato as grooving, secure, and mysterious as possible — a target that much harder to reach when you have to count a silent “1” and come in on “2” of a bar of five.

Nabokov and Stravinsky

As Andriessen and Schönberger suggest, Nabokov was Stravinsky’s opposite number, a displaced Russian aristocrat enthralled with Paris and America.   Many of Stravinky’s and Nabokov’s most celebrated works seem to wander up the same skewed Escher-esque print: “First, you are a perfect technician.  Then you parody the effect of technique in an amused way.  In doing so, you reveal a new, utterly sincere emotion that requires mastering a new technique.  After perfecting this technique, you parody it in an amused way.  In doing so, you reveal a new emotion that requires mastering a new technique….”

On Stravinsky’s influence

In The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross says that The Rite of Spring “prophesied a new type of popular art–low-down yet sophisticated, smartly savage, style and muscle intertwined.”

Part of the story of Alex’s book is how that prophesy didn’t really come true.  It came true for a lot of thrilling American folkoric music:  jazz, rock, hip-hop, musical theatre, etc., etc., etc…but the populist side of classical music never took off.

Reid made me laugh:  In rehearsal, I mentioned that Peter Schickele had said The Rite of Spring was so influential that the much of 20th century classical music could be called “The Rewrite of Spring.”  Reid shook his head. “No: The Rite hasn’t been influentialenough.”

Which type of artist debuts with obscure experimental work, the genius or the fraud? Kim-Sau Chung and Peter Eso have a new paper which answers the question:  it’s both of these types.

Suppose that a new composer is choosing a debut project and he can try a composition in a conventional style or he can write 4’33”, the infamous John Cage composition consisting of three movements of total silence. Critics understand the conventional style well enough to assess the talent of a composer who goes that route. Nobody understands 4’33” and so the experimental composer generates no public information about his talent.

There are three types of composer.  Those that know they are talented enough to have a long career, those that know they are not talented enough and will soon drop out, and then the middle type:  those that don’t know yet whether they are talented enough and will learn more from the success of their debut.  In the Chung-Eso model, the first two types go the experimental route and only the middle type debuts with a conventional work.

The reason is intuitive.  First, the average talent of experimental artists must be higher than conventional artists. Because if it were the other way around, i.e. conventional debuts signaled talent then all types would choose a conventional debut, making it not a signal at all.  The middle types would because they want that positive signal and they want the more informative project.  The high and low types would because the positive signal is all they care about.

Then, once we see that the experimental project signals higher than average talent, we can infer that it’s the high types and the low types that go experimental.  Both of these types are willing to take the positive signal from the style of work in exchange for generating less information by the actual composition.  The middle types on the other hand are willing to forego the buzz they would generate by going experimental in return for the chance to learn about their talent.  So they debut conventionally.

Now, as the economics PhD job market approaches, which fields in economics are the experimental ones (generates buzz but nobody understands it, populated by the geniuses as well as the frauds) and which ones are conventional (easy to assess, but generally dull and signals a middling type) ?

Is the United States the world’s dominant exporter of culture?  If this were true of any area you would think that area would be pop music.  But it appears not to be the case.

In this paper we provide stylized facts about the global music consumption and trade since 1960, using a unique data on popular music charts from 22 countries, corresponding to over 98% of the global music market. We find that trade volumes are higher between countries that are geographically closer and between those that share a language. Contrary to growing fears about large- country dominance, trade shares are roughly proportional to country GDP shares; and relative to GDP, the US music share is substantially below the shares of other smaller countries. We find a substantial bias toward domestic music which has, perhaps surprisingly, increased sharply in the past decade. We find no evidence that new communications channels – such as the growth of country-specific MTV channels and Internet penetration – reduce the consumption of domestic music. National policies aimed at preventing the death of local culture, such as radio airplay quotas, may explain part of the increasing consumption of local music.

Here is the paper by Ferreira and Waldfogel.  And before you click on this link, guess which country is the largest exporter as a fraction of GDP.

Step 1: The 41-year-old should begin by having his first child when he is 32.

Step 2: when the child is 6 she should begin taking piano lessons.

Step 3: the 41-year-old’s mother should consistently beat him at golf.

Step 4: At age 39, notice that you can hit the ball twice as far as your mother and therefore there is no good reason she should always win. Notice that as long as your ball is always closer to the hole than your mother’s you will win.

Step 5: Use this strategy to actually beat your mother at golf for the first time.

Step 6: Notice that the same strategy applies to playing the piano vis a vis the now 7-year-old daughter.

Step 7: Begin attending daughter’s piano lessons and learning all of her pieces with the plan that you will always be a better pianist than her, even when she is a concert-playing professional.

Step 8: Around age 40 notice that this is going a little slowly and so its time to start learning some serious pieces.

Step 9: At age 41, learn to play Children’s Song #6 by Chick Corea.

It’s not very good. My hands get tired toward the end of the fast sections and you can see that I lose the rhythm a bit. Also I am rushing. (still ahead of my daughter though 🙂

I have never taken piano lessons, but I think I might start.

  1. Are civil wars more often North vs South than East vs West?  Put differently, based on the boundaries that have survived until today, are countries, on average, wider than they are tall?
  2. Which will arrive first:  the ability to make a digital “mold” of distinctive celebrity voices or the technology allowing celebrities to map the digital signature of their voice in order to claim property rights?
  3. The hard `r` in Spanish and other languages creates a natural syncopation because the r usually occupies the downbeat, as in “sagrada” or “cortado”
  4. Syncopation adds a dimension to music because brain tickles as it tries to make sense of two times at once.
  5. Among European soccer nations, the closer to Africa the fewer black players on the national team.

David Byrne, singer of the Talking Heads, solo artist, and blogger, is suing Charlie Crist for the use of the song “Road to Nowhere” in an advertisement for his Florida Senate campaign.  One of the reasons given is interesting.  Because the law requires that permission be granted:

… use of the song and my voice in a campaign ad implies that I, as writer and singer of the song, might have granted Crist permission to use it, and that I therefore endorse him and/or the Republican Party, of which he was a member until very, very recently. The general public might also think I simply license the use of my songs to anyone who will pay the going rate, but that’s not true either, as I have never licensed a song for use in an ad. I do license songs to commercial films and TV shows (if they pay the going rate), and to dance companies and student filmmakers mostly for free. But not to ads.

Note that if there were no requirement to ask for permission then there would be no such inference.  (Not that it would change things in this case because David Byrne is opposed for other reasons as well.)

About twice a year the Chicago “classic rock” station does something strange.  Instead of its regular programming sequence, it sets aside about a week to play through all the greatest songs in alphabetical order.  And this is advertised as a big event, a restoration of order out of chaos that the audience has apparently been desperate for since the last time they did it.  They are at it again this week and in between “Boys of Summer” and “Brain Damage/Eclipse” I started to wonder why this was thought to be a good marketing strategy.

  1. There is the possibility of coordination failure between audience and programmer at certain time slots.  If everybody tuning in at noon is expecting late 70’s prog rock then they better play that or lose their audience.  The A to Z is a way to break the trap.
  2. It works as a commitment not to repeat a song for a whole week.
  3. It’s really just a negotiation tactic with the program director.  The station proves publicly that the program director’s choice of playlist on a daily basis is completely irrelevant to the listeners.
  4. The station is just pruning its library and it takes a week to do that every 6 months.  While they are at it, they might as well play the songs that made the cut.
  5. It gets the listeners into the game of predicting the next song.  (They just played “Back Door Man” by the doors.  We know “Back in the USSR” is coming soon.  Is there anything in between that we are forgetting?  Let’s stay tuned and find out!)

If it is any one of the demand-side explanations (like 2 and 5) there is a residual puzzle.  Presumably listeners have some given satiation point for classic rock and this trick is just getting them to inter-temporally substitute their listening.  They listen more now, less later.  Why is that good for the station?

I think the answer has to do with the convex value of advertising.  Advertisers’ willingness to pay increases more than proportionally with the size of the audience.  This is due to “bandwagon” and “water cooler” effects.  (Michael Chwe has a paper about this.)  With that in mind the station would prefer everyone listen this week and nobody listen next week rather than half and half.

You can see the whole list (up to now) here.

She, like many artists, doesn’t want to raise the price of her concert tickets even though there is excess demand.  By keeping the price low she allows fans who could not afford the market clearing price to see her concerts.  She is effectively paying to allow them to enjoy her shows.  Does this make her an altruist?

A textbook argument against, but one that is wrong, is the following.  At the low price there is a market for ticket scalpers.  Ticket scalpers will raise the price to the market-clearing level.  Those fans who would sell their tickets to scalpers reveal that they prefer the money to the tickets.  And they get the money in exchange for the tickets. Likewise those that buy tickets from scalpers reveal that they value the tickets more than the money. So the secondary market makes everyone better off.  So if Miley Cyrus were truly an altruist she would allow this to happen rather than paying a price to prevent it.

The problem with the argument is that it works only because the ticket scalper was unanticipated.  If all parties knew that tickets would sell at the market clearing price then the “true fans” that Miley is targeting would never actually get a ticket in the first place and this would make them worse off.  They would never get a ticket either because they couldn’t afford it, or if they were originally allocated by lottery, the additional rents would attract more entrants to that lottery.

So we can’t argue that Miley is not an altruist.  But we can argue that Miley’s refusal to raise prices is perfectly consistent with profit maximization.  Here is a model.  A fan’s willingness to pay to see Miley Cyrus in concert is a function of who else is there.  It’s more fun if she is singing to screaming pre-teen girls because they add to the experience.  It’s no fun if she is singing to a bunch of rich parents and their kids who don’t know how to cut loose.

With this model, no matter how much Miley would like to raise the price to take advantage of excess demand, she cannot.  Because the price acts as a screening instrument.  Higher prices select a less-desirable composition of the audience, lowering willingness to pay.  The profit maximizing price is the maximum she can charge before this selection effect starts to reduce demand.  At that price and everywhere below there is excess demand.

This is related to a paper by Simon Board on monopolistic pricing with peer effects.

What explains Jamiroquai?  How can an artist be talented enough to have a big hit but not be talented enough to stay on the map?  You can tell stories about market structure, contracts, fads, etc, but there is a statistical property that comes into play before all of that.

Suppose that only the top .0001% of all output gets our attention. These are the hits.  And suppose that artists are ordered by their talent, call it τ.  Talent measures the average quality of an artist’s output, but the quality of an individual piece is a draw from some distribution with mean τ.

Suppose that talent itself has a normal distribution within the population of artists.  Let’s consider the talent level τ which is at the top .001 percentile.  That is, only .001% of the population are more talented than τ.  A striking property of the normal distribution is the following.  Among all people who are more talented than τ, a huge percentage of them are just barely more talented than τ.  Only a very small percentage, say 1% of the top .001% are significantly more talented than τ, they are the superstars. (See the footnote below for a precise statement of this fact.)

These superstars will consistently produce output in the top .0001%.  They will have many hits.  But they make up only 1% of the top .001% and so they make up only .00001% of the population.  They can therefore contribute at most 10% of the hits.

The remaining 90% of the hits will be produced by artists who are not much more talented than τ.  The most talented of these consist of the remaining 99% of the top .001%, i.e. close to .001% of the population.  With all of these artists who are almost equal in terms of talent competing to perform in the top .0001%, each of these has at most a 1 in 10 chance of doing it once.  A 1 in 100 chance of doing it twice, etc.


(*A more precise version of this statement is something like the following.  For any e>0 as small as you wish and y<100% as large as you wish, if you pick x big enough and you ask what is the conditional probability that someone more talented than x is not more talented than x+e, you can make that probability larger than y.  This feature of the normal distribution is referred to as a thin tail property.)

On my way to yoga this afternoon I heard a bit on NPR about the song “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon.  You remember the song, it’s addressed to some mysterious man who wears a fruity scarf and apparently has a big ego.

At the end of the segment there was a query from a listener that packed a punch.  (Paraphrasing the NPR listener)  She sings “I bet you think this song is about you, don’t you?” Why would she sing that?  After all, the song is about him.

At first I thought that the listener just didn’t understand the point of the barb:  She is saying that he is so vain because when he hears a song about someone he assumes it is about him.  But after thinking for awhile, I see that the listener was onto something.

Is it vain to think that a song is about you when indeed it really is about you?  Can you be accused of being vain just for being right?  What if the guy has never before thought a song was about him.  Maybe this was the very first time in his life that he ever thought a song was about him, and he had good reason to because in fact it was about him and indeed all the clues were laid out in previous verses?

She could have sung “I bet you think those other songs, like you know the song about turning brown eyes blue, by Crystal Gayle, or the one by the Carpenters about birds suddenly appearing, you know those songs, I bet you think those songs are about you.  Well I got news for you, they are not.  In fact those singers have never met you, duh.”  But she didn’t.

Even worse, the song clearly accuses its subject of being vain.  If he thinks the song is about him, then he is acknowledging his own vanity.  Certainly the guy gets humility points for recognizing his own vanity, right?

But wait.  The subject knows that Carly knows that the subject’s recognition of himself in Carly’s song is an admission of vanity, and hence an act of humility.  And therefore “I bet you think this song is about you” translates to “I bet you think you are humble.”  And given that, since the subject indeed recognizes himself in the song he is in fact claiming to be humble, an act of sheer vanity.

So Carly’s lyrics cut deep indeed.

(Postscript:  before today I actually thought the song was about me.)

The sound of David Grisman’s mandolin is violet and indigo and generally vibrates in the short-wavelength end of the color spectrum.  (wait for around the 1 minute mark, after the intro-noodling.)

Honestly I have no good theory.  Here are some rejected ones:

  1. They are the only ones sufficiently lacking in self-respect.
  2. Since ads drive everything what matters is the audience still watching at halftime.  By that time the geezers have already drunk enough to be glued to their sofas, but not enough yet to be asleep.
  3. Only Pete Townsend’s generation knows how to count to XLIV.
  4. It’s a kind of best-of the has-beens competition.  A shadow rock-and-roll hall of fame.
  5. You can hide their spectacles and tell them its Carnegie Hall.
  6. Minimizes the, ehem, fallout from wardrobe malfunctions.

Musicians and academics are promiscuous collaborators. They flit from partnership to partnership sometimes for one-off gigs, sometimes for ongoing stints. In academia, regardless of the longevity of the group, the individual author is always the atomic unit. Co-authorships are identified simply with the names of the authors. Whereas musicians eventually form bands.

Bands have identities separate from the individuals in the bands. The name of the band stores that identity. It also solves a problem we face in academia of how to order the names of the contributors. You don’t. (There is evidence that the lexical ordering of names is good for Andersons and bad for Zames.) We should form bands too.

The idea of a band is important enough that sometimes even solo musicians incorporate themselves as bands. Roger Myerson is the Nine Inch Nails of game theory.

Bands work in the studio (writing papers) and then tour (giving seminars.) Musicians have two typical ways of organizing these. Jazz and pop bands create and perform as a group. Classical music is usually performed by specialists rather than the composer herself.

Our bands do something in between which is hard to understand when you think of it this way. We compose as a band but then perform as individuals. That’s weird because you would think that either you want to hear the composer do the performing or a performance specialist. If it is always the composer then it must be because the composer has a special insight into the performance. But then why not all of them? We should tour as bands some times. And we should also reward performance specialists who perform others’ work.

I want to name my bands. I want my next co-authored paper to be “by (insert name of band here) ” Sandeep, what do you say? Our torture paper will be “by Cheap Talk.” I look forward to making petulant demands and trashing hotel rooms.

In that other post, I was being serious.  But here, just for fun, let’s name some of the great economics bands.  I will start.

  1. Fudenberg and Levine:  The Gossamer Anvil, an early 70s jam band.
  2. Gul and Pesendorfer:  Mixtürhëad.
  3. Morris and Shin: Eskalator, prog rock.

Paul Bley is the most influential jazz pianist you have never heard of.  And its not because he is an abstract, inaccessible, musician’s musician.  His playing is as lyrical and straightforward as Keith Jarrett.   Go to Pandora and create a Paul Bley station.  Here, I did it for you.

Ethan Iverson wrote an essay on Paul Bley, focusing especially on an album entitled Footloose! (which I have never heard.  I have stuck mostly to his solo stuff.)

Not just Jarrett and Corea but a whole generation of mostly caucasian post-1970 NYC jazz pianists checked out Footloose!: Richie Beirach, Joanne Brackeen, Jim McNeely, Marc Copland, Kenny Werner, Fred Hersch, etc., all seem to have made room for Paul Bley to hang at the same table that Bill Evans presides over. Bley’s peers Steve Kuhn and Denny Zeitlin seem to have paid attention, too. I suspect that not all these comparatively straight-ahead musicians paid the same kind of attention to more hardcore classic Bley albums like the ferocious Barrage or the minimalist Ballads. But since Footloose! is so swinging, it has always been interesting to just about everybody. Indeed, I believe that Bley’s influence crossed the color line with Geri Allen in the 80s and that now he is considered a resource for any curious musician regardless of background.

The article is typically brilliant Iverson writing, but this bit was just precious:

When I finally met Paul Bley a couple of years ago, I was about to go onstage with his old associate Charlie Haden. Bley was rather chilly at first handshake. These days he’s a famous contrarian, and I sensed I needed to not grovel but respond in kind. I leaned into him and told him, viciously, “I had all your records at one point. But you know what? I can’t play like you, and why would I want to? I gave all your records away when I was 24. I turned my back.”

Bley looked astonished, but then he grinned. “I’m glad you got rid of all my records, that’s what I tell all pianists to do.”

I responded, “Yeah…good. Well, recently I got some of your records, and I decided to love you again.”

Bley said, “That was a mistake. Get rid of my records.”

I listen to Pandora whenever I am in my office.  It does a pretty good job of finding music that matches my taste, sometimes a really good job.  In the past few weeks I’ve found some stuff that was completely new to me that I really liked.  I created a station based on these tunes:

  1. Beep! Marty’s Mishap.  I have never heard of this trio and as far as I can tell google has not either. The rhythm is an instrument if that makes any sense.  This is exactly the kind of music I like.
  2. Nels Cline, Alstromeria.  I don’t know how to classify this music.  The guitar playing is virtuosity without showing off.  The composition is academic without feeling pretentious.
  3. Tomasz Stanko Quartet, Kattorna.  I first learned of this quartet in a roundabout way.  The rhythm section has a few albums as a trio (The Marcin Waslez-somethingPolish-ski Trio) that I found on Pandora and really like.  Then I learned that their main gig is this quartet led by trumpeter Tomasz Stanko.  The quartet may be even better.  Listen to what the piano is doing during the trumpet solos.
  4. Erik Friedlander, Quake.  He plays cello.  Lots of other people play lots of other instruments.  Sometimes all at once.  The music ranges from controlled chaos to the beautifully melodic.
  5. Rolf Lislevand, Toccata. Nuove Musiche with a modern sensibility.  Beautiful.
  6. Moraz & Bruford, Living Space.  Piano and drums, that’s it.  But the pianist thinks he is playing the drums and the drummer thinks he is playing the piano.

All week this will be my music to read job-market files to.  Join me.

The full title of the Dylan tune is “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again.”  When you have listened to that song as much as I have you start to notice the patterns.  Check out the lyrics.

  1. Two four-line verses with xAyA rhyme scheme, followed by the chorus “Oh Mama, can this really be the end?…”
  2. The first verse in the pair introduces a character and a scene and there is some hint of strangeness about it.  As with a lot of Dylan tunes the character is often a vague literary reference or some generic symbol of authority.  Sometimes both.
  3. The narrator usually first appears in the second verse of the pair, possibly alongside a new character.
  4. In the second half the narrator has some sense of disconnection with the scene/character and
  5. It resolves in the last line with the narrator being tricked and we are left with a feeling of hopelessness or isolation. (the notable exception to this is the 6th verse were the narrator turns the tables on the character, the preacher. still this somehow makes for even more hopelessness.)

For example, the last verse in the song:

Now the bricks lay on Grand Street
Where the neon madmen climb. (#2a)
They all fall there so perfectly,
It all seems so well timed. (#2b)
An’ here I sit so patiently (#3) (#4)
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all these things twice. (#5)

You can almost use this as a recipe and write verse after verse of your own.  I have some kind of strange disease that makes me like to do stuff like that, so here goes.  My very own Memphis Blues verse:

Well the barrister wrote to Ahab
Pleading for his vote
And offering to serenade
At the launching of his boat

And the rickshaw driver said to me
Speeding to the dock
“They’ll tempt you with blue oysters
But serve you Brighton Rock.”

Oh, Mama…

He is the singer and songwriter for The Mr. T Experience and he wrote King Dork.  His new book, Andromeda Klein is not as great but still good.  His next book is a King Dork sequel called King Dork, Approximately.  And a film adaptation of King Dork is in development with Will Ferrell producing.

Here is the inteview. And here is Frank Portman’s blog.

I once linked to something like this.  But that didnt hold a candle to this one:

Did you notice that when the song starts to go in the right direction his voice has an Eastern European accent?  I have no idea whether this guy is a native English speaker.  If he is then this is an artifact of singing backwards.  If he really is Eastern European then it says something about language accents that they appear even when singing a foreign language backwards.

Read about it in the Wall Street Journal.

Many of his papers have been highly theoretical works focusing on imperfections in financial markets. “He’s probably the most abstract thinker ever to head a Federal Reserve bank,” said Robert Lucas, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who is serving as a consultant to the Minneapolis Fed.

Mr. Kocherlakota’s colleagues say he is a pragmatic person who is hard to identify fully with any one camp.

“He believes in the freshwater world, but he’s not that radical,” says Luigi Pistaferri, a frequent co-author with whom Mr. Kocherlakota worked for three years at Stanford University. “He agrees that there are market failures, and his attitude is, ‘How do we make the best of a world in which there are such failures?’ “

I once took Narayana to see The Bad Plus in Minneapolis on a visit there.  Narayana is Canadian I believe and that night they busted out Tom Sawyer.  I don’t think he was all that into it.

I assume this means we will need a new macro co-editor at Theoretical Economics.  Volunteers?

Ethan Iverson is a powerful force.  I heard him once say something like “By day I study jazz traditions, and by night, with the Bad Plus, I reject them.”  Here he is solidifying his cred on the first count with an unbelievable flurry of posts on Lester Young who was born 100 years ago this week.  Here you have “A Beginner’s Guide to the Master Takes,” “Miles Davis and Lester Young,” and piano transcriptions of famous Pres solos!!  All in all, 10 monumental articles.

Phrenology was the attempt to correlate physical features of the brain and skull with personality, intellect, creativity.  You got your data by plundering graves.

The three categories of individuals who were most interesting for finding out about the human mind were criminals, the insane, and geniuses, in the sense that they represented the extreme versions of the human mind …. It was easy enough to get the heads of criminals and the insane. Nobody wanted these, really. You could go to any asylum cemetery and root around and not be bothered, or hang out at the gallows and scoop up an executed criminal. Those two were pretty easy. Getting the heads of geniuses proved to be considerably more difficult.

Among the genius heads stolen and studied by phrenologists was Joseph Haydn’s.

The NY Times has an article about a new wave of independent films and their marketing.

When “The Age of Stupid,” a climate change movie, “opens” across the United States in September, it will play on some 400 screens in a one-night event, with a video performance by Thom Yorke of Radiohead, all paid for by the filmmakers themselves and their backers. In Britain, meanwhile, the film has been showing via an Internet service that lets anyone pay to license a copy, set up a screening and keep the profit.

The article is about the variety of roll-your-own distribution and marketing campaigns employed by filmmakers who lack studio backing.  But the lede is buried:

Famous fans like Courtney Love were soon chattering online about the film. And an army of “virtual street teamers” — Internet advocates who flood social networks with admiring comments, sometimes for a fee, sometimes not — were recruited by a Web consultant, Sarah Lewitinn, who usually works the music scene.

Here is wikipedia on street teams.  The origin is traced back to the KISS army, a grass-roots fan club that aggressively promoted the band KISS and later “vertically integrated” with the KISS marketing machine where they had access to exclusive promotional merchandise.

Today you can hire a consultant to assemble a street team to promote your band, movie, (hmmm… blog?), … A good consultant will find (or make) fans with a selected personality type, street-cred, and social network and organize them into a guerilla marketing squad armed with swag.

Virtual street teams operate in online social networks.  Presumably then, actual people are no longer required.  A good consultant can manufacture online identities, position them in a social network, getting Twitter followers and Facebook friends and cultivate the marketing opportunities from there.  You can imagine the pitch:  “We can mobilize 10,000 follower-tweets per day…”

Here is the web site of, the agency of Sara Lewitinn who coordinated the virtual street team for the film Anvil! The Story of Anvil.

For The Win! is an cooperative of club urchins and nightlife denizens charged with the task of defending the best of pop culture from the daily onslaught of the whack. At night we comb the streets in search of the best fashion, art, music, and movies New York City has to offer. By day we make sure we spread the word to the world by any and all means necessary of the internet to it’s biggest platforms without skipping a step or taking anything for granted. Each of our campaigns is as unique as the artist it represents.

Note they also count Slighly Stoopid, Electrocute, and The Pet Shop Boys (!) as clients.

90 minutes, interspersed with Jarrett recordings spanning decades.  The interview covers early influences, the american quartet, the trio, what he looks for in “sidemen”, obeying the left hand and his recent solo work.  Jarrett seems particularly enthused about recent solo performances with a legendary London 2008 recording due out this fall.

The Starbucks index suggests that, as a rough rule of thumb, to get the Swiss price for something, double the US price i.e. a tall latte in Switzerland is twice the price of one in the US.  This rule works for concerts too meaning I paid a huge amount to see the Keith Jarrett Trio in Lucerne.

But it was worth it.  The concert hall itself, KKL Lucerne, is amazing.  The views of snow-capped mountains from the roof terrace creates just the right buzz for a concert.  The huge roof which overhangs the fountain reflects the lake and the boats as they come in or leave at the dock.  It’s a great place to have your beer before you head to your expensive seat.

And I’ve always found Keith Jarrett to be more compelling live than on CD.  There’s a warmth to his tone live that is missing in the excellent but cold ECM recordings, even of the live performances.  They ended with a song I did not recognize.   Jarrett played a repetitive and hypnotic four note theme with his left hand while improvising wildly with his right.  Peacock kept up a steady rhythm on the bass and De Johnette improvised with beats and sounds that you would never guess could come from a drumset.  I would love to identify the song but I can’t find a playlist on the web! Do this article or this one contain the playlist?

“Bob Dylan drew upon a rich lode of old folk tunes for most of his early songs,” Hyde writes. “That’s not theft; that’s the folk tradition at its best.” It seems that nearly two-thirds of Dylan’s work between 1961-63 — some 50 songs — were reinterpretations of American folk classics. In today’s corporate-creative environment, in which Disney was allowed to change the basic nature of copyright law back in the 90s so that their signature mouse wouldn’t fall into the public domain, Dylan’s early work would’ve landed him in court.

from a post at Mental Floss.  The punchline:

Hyde argues that “there are good reasons to manage scarce resources through market forces, but cultural commons are never by nature scarce, so why enclose them far into the future with the fences of copyright and patent?

I am generally opposed to IP law, but I think this oversimplifies.  There is room for argument about patents.  (For example, I came across this story today about drugs for rare diseases.  It is hard to see how drugs that will benefit a total of 3 people on the whole planet can be financed without monopoly rents.) However, copyright for music and other creative works is a solution to a non-existent incentive problem.

Modern classical music, especially, is really hard.  What the hell are you listening too, this endlessly winding dissonant stuff without much melody?

The only way to get this kind of music in your ear is to listen to it over and over, which is what I have been doing with the first movement, “Prelude,” of the Maw Violin Concerto the last couple of days.  It doesn’t matter whether I want to hear it again or not:  I just play it again when it’s done.

When I cycle a piece of thorny orchestral music this way the fog slowly lifts, the picture clears, figure and ground separate.  Past pieces I’ve placed on endless loop have included Ligeti’s Melodien, Birtwistle’s The Triumph of Time, Lieberson’s Piano Concerto, and Schuller’s Of Reminiscences and Reflections. Initially they were all daunting listens but now they are old friends.  In every case I have learned to understand the composer’s acerbic language much better, so that new experiences with their other pieces aren’t as hard.

That’s Ethan Iverson who, in addition to being the piano player for the frontier jazz trio The Bad Plus, writes an outstanding blog, Do The MathThis post clarified a lot for me.  Iverson is a broad, open-minded, and gifted musician and even he approaches contemporary classical music the same way my PhD students approach the Revenue Equivalence Thereom.  I have tried exactly what he describes here for Ligeti, etc.  and I have yet to turn that corner.

  1. Next there will be scam-baiter-baiters, etc.
  2. Psychological time travel.  Must have something to do with this.
  3. Jazz and brain chemistry.

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