two zero two two tunes

tomas fujiwara’s triple double — march

Is “Life Only Gets More” a musical nod to “Everything happens so much“? Is the whole album? The hyper-bent guitar notes, the clacky, creaking percussion—this album is untamed from start to finish. Even when the temperature drops here and there like on “Silhouettes in Smoke,” the trumpets play around with runs and dissonances to avoid real lulls. I didn’t hear anything quite as fiercely engaging as this album all year, and I probably wouldn’t have with any more digging.

wolfram schmitt-leonardy — scarlatti sonatas

Definitely not the Scarlatti of your weekly piano lessons. The repeats receive tasteful ornamentation—never over-the-top showy—that keeps everything fresh the second time through, and (a bit like Simone Dinnerstein has done with her Bach recordings) there’s enough reverb in the production to transform pointy, Baroque notes on the page to something almost early Romantic in the ear. It’s a welcome invitation to think of and appreciate Scarlatti musically, not just pedagogically.

jóhann jóhannsson — drone mass

Inspired by the “Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians,” this album sounds like something sacred-adjacent, with a dash of film score and a pinch of contemporary classical. The sustained “drone” sounds throughout (e.g., on the final track) glue the 45 minutes together, but the mix of glitchy electronics in tracks like “Take the Night Air” make the texture more interesting than just long notes and stable harmonies. I especially enjoyed revisiting this album in December when this oratorio and that mass were back on the radio waves.

danger mouse and black thought — cheat codes

A little reluctant to include this album on my list to avoid pulling a David Brooks, but when it’s good, it’s good. Cheat Codes could have come out of the “conscious hip-hop” of thirty years ago, but even so, it doesn’t force itself to be serious at every turn—has an album ever opened with a reference to Harry Potter? The middle tracks of the album include an appearance by Daniel Dumile who died in 2020, so it really does feel like this one dropped out of an earlier era.

tyshawn sorey trio — mesmerism + the off-off broadway guide to synergism

Cheating a bit here by including two albums, but I hear these two releases as two halves of a single project. Mesmerism includes Great American Songbook standards but all lightly rehearsed, so the tracks still incorporate stretches of adventurous improvisation. Pianist Aaron Diehl builds some really interesting architecture for several minutes on one four-note descent in “Detour Ahead,” a stand-out track. Things are more boldly improvisatory on Off-Off, but the three sets on the triple album nevertheless have a lot of coherence. (Does Sorey float “Jitterbug Waltz” back into several tracks?) String all four of these rich discs together and before you know it, you’ll be in 2023.

fairness doctrines

In the June issue of Commonweal, I document the rise of “equity” as a central term of contemporary politics and culture. Even if equity seems to have emerged as some novel notion in our political lexicon, it’s in fact one of the oldest, most canonical ideas in Western legal and ethical thinking. More specifically, it stems from the “ability to bend the strict language of the law” in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, and despite claims from pundits like Christopher Rufo, it has nothing to do with “identity-based Marxism”:

In short, Aristotle praises the rule of law—whereby our actions are regulated according to statutes rather than the whims of despots—but he worries that laws alone might sometimes work unfairly. At one point, he writes, “whenever the law makes a universal pronouncement, but things turn out in a particular case contrary to the ‘universal’ rule,” it is up to us to “rectify the deficiency by reference to what the lawgiver himself would have said if he had been there and, if he had known about the case, would have laid down in law.” In such an exceptional case, Aristotle wants us to attend to what we would call the “spirit of the law” rather than the “letter of the law,” and drawing on a memorable image, he urges us to think of “the soft, leaden rule used by the builders in Lesbos: the rule adapts itself to the configuration of the stone, instead of staying the same shape.” He hopes that in a similar way, a “decree adapts itself to actual events.” In Aristotle’s view, rules were made to be bent.

Legal equity, in other words, is not driven by “a specific political agenda but a general willingness to override defective rules,” and this ethical framework has carried that meaning for about 2,500 years. Read the rest at Commonweal‘s site.

ancient deepfakes at classical world

Office Board by John F. Peto

The latest issue of Classical World includes my article on the shifting parameters of successful “impersonation” or sermocinatio in the ancient world, particularly as described in the fourth-century Ars Rhetorica of Gaius Julius Victor. Unlike his predecessors Cicero and Quintilian, who see impersonation as an occasion for “exaggeration and artifice” rooted in the so-called “grand style,” Gaius Julius Victor recommends that speakers use “less overt and even covert means” for taking on the personalities of others. In other words, I trace how impersonation shifts in the fourth century from a method of comedic, rhetorical excess to one of subtlety and even deception.

By recommending a style of impersonation that goes unnoticed, Gaius Julius Victor anticipates our own era’s novel methods of manufacturing deceptive likenesses in deepfake videos, where “concealing one’s fiction behind an expert veneer of sprezzatura is key to the impersonation’s persuasive potency.” His novel stylistic recommendations for sermocinatio in the fourth century show us how an impersonation might be designed to go undetected, not unlike various genres of contemporary disinformation.

The published article is hosted at Classical World, and the pre-print is available through my personal site’s archive.