Language, Music, and Holidays

I am privileged enough to know a second language (although as the years pass, my proficiency is faltering…). The government and the military have a great need for foreign language proficiency for its employees (though apparently that isn’t much of a requirement for U.S. diplomats…). Given their need, they coordinated with the University of Maryland to develop a cognitive test that is supposed to determine how proficient someone can become in a foreign language. It may soon be publicly available, but honestly I don’t know if I’d be interested in taking it. While helpful as an aptitude test for job functions, oftentimes the interest and the attempt at proficiency is a great help for cultural relations with non-American countries. I’d be concerned that a test like this would cause people to give up languages earlier–if they know they’d never become fully proficient, why learn more than the basics or general education requirement?

In terms of making foreign languages more accessible, however, there is also the matter of translations. I’m currently writing about how language and national identity can have a tendency to segment the Internet, but it also has an impact on literature. One man wants to change that, by encouraging others to start their own publishing houses. He did, and focuses primarily on translated works from Russia and Central and Southern America, as he started his publishing house in Dallas, Texas. It’s a great read, with insights about the publishing business and notes about the commonality (or lack thereof) of translated literature in the United States.

And, well, if you don’t start a publishing house, you can always support your local bookstore. Janet Potter has a short essay about The Millions about her love affair with bookstores.

Image of a book sculpture produced by Odires Mlaszho for the Venice Art Biennale

Pitchfork recently published a great longform essay on music streaming. It brought up a lot of great points, discussing the formats (radio, internet radio, spotify, soundcloud…) and the costs and tradeoffs of the various music streaming options. I have so many things to write about this, that it turned into a blog post. Beware that the pitchfork essay has adopted the all-too-common habit of feature web design, and made reading the article into a full screen experience complete with animated text. I wonder when (or if) the novelty will wear off for this magazine-style publishing.

In the same vein, these articles are somewhat older but call up similar themes. Bob Lefsetz calls out artists like Metallica (who supported RIAA in their copyright-infringement lawsuits), asserting that they need to decide which side they’re on as artists:

“We live in an attention economy, your biggest chore is getting people to listen, not to pay for your music. And the entire music industry is rotten to the core, riddled with egocentric businesspeople putting themselves first and responding not to music, but money.”

While services like Ponyo (which I’ve discussed before) are attempting to reclaim the sound lost by Mp3s and other lossy digital formats, audio engineers are cognizant of the need to master sound differently when many listeners will be listening in those low-quality formats:

“Mastering for iTunes was a different challenge,” VanDette told Ars. “You can’t get around it—when you throw away 80 percent of the data, the sound changes. It was my quest to make the AAC files sound as close to the CD as possible; I did not want them to be any more loud, hyped, or boomy sounding than the CD.”

The streaming essay talks a significant amount about how the trend toward algorithmically tailored music is also a trend toward more personalized, individual music experiences, potentially destroying the “imagined community” that can be developed through radio play (per Susan Douglas’ research). But headphones also had a significant impact on the personalization and individualization of music listening.

I’m cutting myself off otherwise I could talk about music all day. This week was rife with religious celebrations, with Passover earlier this week and Easter this weekend (and today is Good Friday). In honor of Easter, The Atlantic explores the atmosphere in Vatican City with the first retired pope, Pope Benedict XVI living only meters from the new pope, Pope Francis.

Additionally, The Rumpus has an essay about preparing the Haggadah, the prayers and thought-provoking readings that occur over Passover Seder. A holiday that promotes introspection and examination of where you’ve come from and what you’ve been through, surrounded by family and friends sounds like a really great holiday, even if the history surrounding Passover is a bit grim.

Anyway, for this week you can listen to this playlist of 5 songs by Daughter performed with an orchestra (or at least strings). It repeats itself for you so you can listen all day.