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A discussion of the symphonic poem
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elektro80
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PostPosted: Fri May 27, 2005 6:00 am    Post subject: A discussion of the symphonic poem Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

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Do we not, in truth, ask the impossible of music when we expect it to express feelings, to translate dramatic situations, even to imitate nature?


Igor Stravinsky asked this question in the early 1930s. I think it is stil a valid question, possibly more so today than back then.

At the time Stravinsky, being clearly a modernist composer, also leaned heavily on the recent romantic traditions of Chopin, Mahler and Wagner.. even Franz Liszt and others. All these were in truth also modernists of their own time, but then the term "romanticism" comes to mind. An important issue here is that the concept of "romantic" is not what one might think of it today. We can discuss that later if it is of any interest.

Writing music for events has been a big thing for centuries. A part of the romantic movement was the development of the modern form of program music/symphonic poems, meant to illustrate a story in detail. One might say that at around 1900 program music was a really huge thing. Stravinsky was into this too, but at some stage he suddenly questioned the basic concept.

One must understand that by the late 1880s program music was still a new concept, it was modern and trendy. The latest rage. Clearly this itself was a feature of the romantic ideas ( .. mind you.. yet again romantic is not romantic as we understand the term today ).

Stravinsky´s doubt re the programmatic qualities of music might seem extreme but by the 1930s modernism offered a completely new outlook on what music was and could be. The first obvious attack on romanticism was the very nature of musical language? What was it really about? It is easy to mix up the terms "form" and "language". Stravinsky realized this early on. It can be argued that Stravinsky later on chose a "I don´t care" attitude towards all this.

However, his observation must also be seen as a late observation as the true avantgarde already had been messing about with this since 1895 or so. This can been seen in painting as well as literature too.

My own take on this is that music is not a language. It can however evoke emotions. Which emotions will of course still be dependant on culture and context. This might indicate some of the basic components of what music is made of.. or not. I propose the idea that music is closely linked to the cultural context in which it is created. Are we able to hear the works by Pergolesi or Mozart the "right way"? Are vital qualities of that music lost forever? Aren´t we "writing" something new when we listen to this music or perform it? Aren´t we adding a new context and a new story? And if this is the case, does it really matter?

Discuss! Please..

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PostPosted: Fri May 27, 2005 6:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

A "late" example of romanticism is "The Planets" by Gustav Holst. this can be argued of course, but that is the way I hear it.

This is OT, but I find the music well written but boring. Some performances of it are more interesting than others, but it is still boring.

A dude that takes a modernist approach on "this kind of music" is Prokofiev in "The Battle On The Ice" sequence ( the Alexander Nevsky orchestral suite. a rewrite of the music written for the film by Eisenstein ).

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PostPosted: Fri May 27, 2005 6:29 am    Post subject: Re: A discussion of the symphonic poem Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

elektro80 wrote:
Quote:
Do we not, in truth, ask the impossible of music when we expect it to express feelings, to translate dramatic situations, even to imitate nature?



My own take on this is that music is not a language. It can however evoke emotions. Which emotions will of course still be dependant on culture and context. This might indicate some of the basic components of what music is made of.. or not.



Stravinsky later backtracked on that, admitting music was capable of expresing emotions. I suppose he had to, because anyone who listens to, say, the Adagietto from Mahler's 5th is struck by the beauty and emotion it contains. Even Stravinsky.
Certain chords and chord progressions make us feel certain ways. Everyone is probably different, but within each example, common ground could be found: ie a perfect cadence sounds like a finish, a full stop. That return to the home chord is something we have (unconciously) yearned for. Of course, this also goes the other way: but setting up a piece an deliberately avoiding all traces of dominant-tonic relationships, the listener will feel somehow suspended, if not lost; a useful device, ask Eno, whose drones are often on the dominant, or his pieces start on the dominant.

So, well music may not be a language, it is my opinion that it speaks to us emotionally and psychologically. I believe some of this goes way back into our common heritage: witness a very low loud rumble. This brings up ominous feeling, a sense of fear. I think it is because back when we were cavemen, if we heard something low and loud, it was only a bad thing: an earthquake, a heard of big animals. There are other things a bit like this: reverb creates a feeling of memory, or something from the past. It also creates an acoustic space for a sound to exist in, but once the higher frequencies are removed, this nostalgic thing kicks in. Maybe a bit OT there.
BTW, it is 1.30 am here, i am really tired, so forgive the looseness of the above
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PostPosted: Fri May 27, 2005 6:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Trivia..

Eisenstein claimed the music for Alexander Nevsky to be a new revolutionary concept. The msuic supposedly follows the pictures in detail and in many cases there are visual/music cues that interact. As such he claimed the music to be programmatic. Eisenstein basically wrote his own myth and in retrospect his claims, which can probably be found on the web somewhere, are all high quality manure. Prokofiev never made these claims and some of Eisensteins ideas are completely unfounded and at times stupid. I imagine he invented this conncetion himself when he was editing the movie.

The music for the movie is excellent, but the actual recordings/performances made for the original soundtrack were disgustingly awful. many sections were so badly played that they don´t even get close to the notation. Some of it is rather close to "no wave" punk than what Prokofiev imagined. That said, some sections are suddenly rather OK.. so the soundtrack itself is full of "surprises". The music is better than the movie, and the "Orchestral/symphonic suite" version is the one to listen too. A decent recording is the one released on Telarc in the 80s, but yet again.. some details are badly played.

In this respect, Prokofiev tended to write music that would sound "easy", but is at times incredible hard to play well. "A Soldier´s Tale" by Stravinksy is also a good example. Non musicians will not get what the piece is about musically, and musicians will go "WOW". Did Stravinsky write this in Cubase on his Atari? Cool

And yes.. "A Soldier´s Tale" is a story, but here Stravinsky did not quite go the "romantic route".

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PostPosted: Fri May 27, 2005 6:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

elektro80 wrote:
A "late" example of romanticism is "The Planets" by Gustav Holst. this can be argued of course, but that is the way I hear it.

This is OT, but I find the music well written but boring. Some performances of it are more interesting than others, but it is still boring.


Shocked
I used to think Holst, Vaughan Williams et al were boring, then one day the intrinsic Englishness of their works hit me, the movement "Jupiter" is a great example of this.
"Neptune" is a fantastic piece, almost minimalist, ambient. Fantastic.
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PostPosted: Fri May 27, 2005 6:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Well, boring isn´t bad.. and when I say I think it is well written.. I might as wlll add "fantastic".
That said, I very often find Wagner to be extremely boring, but he always has sections that are incredible fab. I am always going to these Wagner concerts and sitting there waiting for those fab moments. I guess I find his writing for the orchestra to be too full of magnificent pedestrain qualities but then he suddenly wakes up and suddenly discovers he can do someting exciting musically. I should add that I think that too many conductors have had their go at their own pedestrian visions of Wagner. He clearly reads better than most performances can deliver. There might still be some life yet in the works of Wagner.

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PostPosted: Fri May 27, 2005 6:55 am    Post subject: Re: A discussion of the symphonic poem Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

mustel wrote:
Stravinsky later backtracked on that, admitting music was capable of expresing emotions.


Yes, he did. But his "observation/opinion" at the time still rings with some insight about what the current tradition was expecting of music and how music was supposedly read by the listener.

The press after "Rites" clearly indicates the mood of the day. I guess Stravinsky suddenly realized the apparant conflict between the epic programmatic romanticism and his own music full of abstractions and quotes. He probably pondered hard on this. He did of course venture into both coolness and coldness and his later rewrite of the "no sentiments possible" stance is understandable. Anyway, Stravinsky was hip like the rest of them.

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PostPosted: Fri May 27, 2005 7:16 am    Post subject: Re: A discussion of the symphonic poem Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

mustel wrote:
Certain chords and chord progressions make us feel certain ways. Everyone is probably different, but within each example, common ground could be found: ie a perfect cadence sounds like a finish, a full stop. That return to the home chord is something we have (unconciously) yearned for.


Yes, but doesn´t this also imply culture and context? As such, is this not form and tradition. Anyone?

Talking culture and context still, where are we now? Looking back to the "what is music" and "what is a musician" threads, the bulk of posts might indicate we as a community are culturally rewriting context and validity in subtle ways. I am not drawing any conclusions, but evidently something is happening. As for getting back to the discussion of the avantgarde done in other threads, wouldn´t a serious look at all this be an interesting excursion? The early 20th century avantgarde DID have a vision about culture and context. This also applies to early 1900th century avantgarde piano music. Do we have any vision of the "here and now"?

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PostPosted: Sat May 28, 2005 2:23 pm    Post subject: Re: A discussion of the symphonic poem Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

elektro80 wrote:
He did of course venture into both coolness and coldness and his later rewrite of the "no sentiments possible" stance is understandable. Anyway, Stravinsky was hip like the rest of them.


Interestingly enough, Holst regarded "sentiment as the enemy of art", something Stravinsky would certainly agreed with. Whether he would have heard that idea within "Venus" is unlikely, I would guess.
You are right in regarding tonality implies culture and context. I wonder if non-western cultures would hear a perfect cadence as a full stop. An exampke I know of would be in Maori music. No perfect dances there, but there is still a sense of 'full stop' etc, but this is done in other ways, usually by a rhythmic or tempo change.
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PostPosted: Sat May 28, 2005 2:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

or a djembe call in malian music:

"brat. . ta. dat. . dat. . ta. dat. .dat. .da. dat. . BRADAT."

i don't think you could even link that in a ratio sense to a V-I

it'd be interesting to study the one ancient culture to really latch onto classical music-that of China, and to see what role capitalism/communism as opposed to cultural paradigms.

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PostPosted: Sat May 28, 2005 3:09 pm    Post subject: Re: A discussion of the symphonic poem Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

mustel wrote:
You are right in regarding tonality implies culture and context. I wonder if non-western cultures would hear a perfect cadence as a full stop.


This is the intersting bit here I guess. Not the cadence of course, but how form, rules, perception and the lot will/will not translate between cultures and across time. Nice ambient music like that of Brian Eno, music which is these days very accepted as music.. would probably not do well back in the 1860s ( Europe that is. ) On the other hand, would it have passed as music to the Maoris? Idea Question

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PostPosted: Sat May 28, 2005 3:19 pm    Post subject: Re: A discussion of the symphonic poem Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

elektro80 wrote:
Talking culture and context still, where are we now? Looking back to the "what is music" and "what is a musician" threads, the bulk of posts might indicate we as a community are culturally rewriting context and validity in subtle ways. I am not drawing any conclusions, but evidently something is happening. As for getting back to the discussion of the avantgarde done in other threads, wouldn´t a serious look at all this be an interesting excursion? The early 20th century avantgarde DID have a vision about culture and context. This also applies to early 1900th century avantgarde piano music. Do we have any vision of the "here and now"?


Well, to me the music we are doing as a community - or should I say the music that memebers of our community are making - definitely has a social and cultural function and meaning. So much so that it can be difficult for cultural outsiders to "get" it. I think this could be a serious drawback and a limitation.

I don't know enough about the music of Stravinsky to comment on it, except it appears to me composers of the early 20th century seemed to have to have some kind of story, theory, philosophy or other special trick to go with their music. If you just wrote music and didn't have some kind of gimicky rap, then you were just old fashoned or unoriginal. I'm glad we have gotten out of that hole. Even though Eno talks alot about music, he doesn't really have anything to day. See: http://electro-music.com/forum/topic-6565.html - It appears that these days the interviewers are more interested in themselves anyhow, so it doesn't matter too much... Shocked

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PostPosted: Sat May 28, 2005 3:20 pm    Post subject: Re: A discussion of the symphonic poem Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

elektro80 wrote:
Nice ambient music like that of Brian Eno, music which is these days very accepted as music.. would probably not do well back in the 1860s ( Europe that is. ) On the other hand, would it have passed as music to the Maoris? Idea Question


Well the interesting thing here is that within Maori music there is a lot of imitaion of nature: birdcall, wind in trees, rhythms like water etc. Alos with NZ electro-acoustic music of 1960-present there is frequent use of nature sounds. Lilburn's "Soundscape with Lake and River" (1979) a great example where the twittering birds are left untouched, but are gradually joined by electronic versions of themselves. Fantastic. So, would the Maori have though Eno as music. I'm guessing that with some of his more environmental stuff, they may have understood it better than the contemporary critics. Alos interestingly, contemporary Maori music has lost it's nature aspect. It is very urban. I think this is a shame, but if one looks at the difference between pre colonial and present day NZ, it makes sense.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 01, 2005 4:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Clearly it does come down to culture and context as eletro88 said.

And in the end that is what any composer is dealing with more so than the notes and timbre; the expectations of the listener, how they can be pandered to, and how they can be denied is the backbone of the "tension and release" thing that our music app teachers talked about.

Richard Strauss claimed that he could convey any story in music, and he gave it a valiant effort, but failed at that goal. "Zarathustra" is a fine piece of music in the romantic context, but having read the book and performed the music with orchestras, I never would have connected the two without the title.

Can music convey emotions, and create impressions? Sure, but the composer has to lean heavily on the culture of the audience and context of performance. It takes tremendous talent and skill to do that and remain original (at least a little).

I agree about the 'Englishness' of Vaughn Williams and Holst being an important part of understanding their music.

On the other hand....... how did that Jewish kid from Brooklyn manage to convey the openness of the American West? I don't think Copland ever rode a horse.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 01, 2005 6:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

chuck wrote:
On the other hand....... how did that Jewish kid from Brooklyn manage to convey the openness of the American West? I don't think Copland ever rode a horse.

You don't have to really do something to experience it. If you can imagine it, that is just as powerful. .

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 1:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Well actually the "Romantics" were against and in reaction to rationalists of the 18th century in general. Passion vs Logic. (I know, it is very synthetic).
By the way the Parsifal begins (Wagner) ahh, it is incredible!
up, Up, UP, UPPer, more than this you are in space.

On the other hand Form IS. it exists in time and CULTURE, which means cultural background is important. We cannot be sure of that, but we can believe it has it's importance.

Comunication Theory- semiotics too-- help alot to try and understand these mechanisms, although comparisons with language can be very very tricky.

If you manage to get "Music in China" by Enzo Restagno that could be useful for understanding what desperate communist ideology does to individual creativity.
Mao destroyed "classical" Chinese music, based on the harmonic character of Natural Sound. The phi-pha (a typical instrument) had to be inserted back in music through Western codification (incredible) and only thanx to Mao's wife. Worst of all, composers in China, for 20 years, have been "State workers", meaning they had to do what the Regime wanted.
Infact the good ones went to live in USA (Tan Dun).

What I beleive (because of this we're talking, what u beleive) is that something to say is important because it is easier to give a form to something you know, that something you don't know. And know adays we not only have natural harmonics to work on, but also the artificial part of life, which transcends National and cultural borders.
In other words what is the musical form-object in globalizd Earth? Totality?

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 12:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Jabbo wrote:
Worst of all, composers in China, for 20 years, have been "State workers", meaning they had to do what the Regime wanted.
Infact the good ones went to live in USA (Tan Dun).


Allow me to play devil´s advocate for a second.

Couldn´t it be said that many if not most western composers (or producers or whatever) work for capitalism as much as Mao´s composers worked for communism?

The long untouchable institution of the "top40" (does that still exist?) where there was a very strong implication that "best selling" meant "best" would seem to indicate this. Facinatingly, last I heard the "top40" was based on a weighted average between sales (40 or so%) and airplay (the rest) where airplay was often paid for by the major labels(!!!!).

Now, I would never dare equate western music with just the top40, but I do think there are strong cultural links between current western music, at least the upperground stuff, and kaptialism.

The musical instrument market, particularly the electronic one, has become both strongly kapitalist and consumerist; the instruments that sell are those that have the sounds that are used in the music that currently sells. This even holds true for those instruments that don´t realy have a sound of their own; after Autechre spoke in a interview about their use of MAX/MSP, interest in this package surged.

Sales seem to somehow validate the work; Kraftwerk are widely regarded as the inventors from anything from elektro to techno. Of cource they aren´t; they are simply the first that sold material in that direction in large numbers. In the fashionable styles of rap and R&B money, riches and sales are a important topic for lyrics though for a debut album it´s acceptable to sing about being poor and "from da hood" which comes down to the same thing.

In the "free west" Clearchannel (which holds much of the U.S. airwaves and quite a few other countires too) outlaws the airplay of protest or pro-peace songs as soon as the governement decides it´s time for another war, amusingly, many of those were written to protest a war against *communist* Vietnam. I don´t see these things as being that different from communist regimes having music about communism or strongly religious societies having religious music.

Note I´m not disagreeing with you so much as objecting to just pointing a finger at communist China. Splinters in one´s brother´s eye and so on...

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 1:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Kassen wrote:
Jabbo wrote:
Worst of all, composers in China, for 20 years, have been "State workers", meaning they had to do what the Regime wanted.
Infact the good ones went to live in USA (Tan Dun).




Couldn´t it be said that many if not most western composers (or producers or whatever) work for capitalism as much as Mao´s composers worked for communism?


Yes.
I suppose one way of circumventing this the many free albums there are for download. While the equipment (Reason, Fruityloops etc) may still be part of the consumerist way, the free aspect avoids that. And any way, I wonder how many of the copies of Reason and Fruity Loops used by these guys are "cracked" anyway. Very Happy
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 1:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Yes, indeed, and I´d also like to note that many of the compositions more typical of that additude intentionally subvert maintream consumerist culture. This was already debated a few times on this site, but never primarily from a perspective of how composition relates to culture. Should we spawn a new thread? Does anybody want to (or dare to) start this with a little write up touching the place of our instruments within our culture, and how we relate to music based on our background?

We can´t promote the use of warez and illegal samples here and I myself am not greatly in favour of either so this should be taken into account but we certainly can discuss the cultural and political sides to modern western music.

Any takers?

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 2:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Well, I'd like to, but as my instrument is effectively a "dead" one, my perspective may be somewhat different from "reality". Crying or Very sad
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 2:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Orczy, I´m happy to be discussing with you but I fear I have no idea at all what you are trying to say in your last post. Could you please help me along a little?
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 2:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Ha Ha! Very Happy
My instrument, the Harmonium, is not really used anymore. It is a museum piece. The way I see this disscussion is to ponder the cultural implications of contemporary instruments (ableton, Reason etc). I can give you a cultural context for trying to revive an old instrument, or a cultural context for the harmonium circa 1840-1920, but I am sure we don't need to do this.
I am interested in the newer stuff, so I am hoping other souls will come in and help us here.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 5:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Kassen wrote:
The musical instrument market, particularly the electronic one, has become both strongly kapitalist and consumerist; the instruments that sell are those that have the sounds that are used in the music that currently sells.


This is very true. But due to modern manufacturing and the availablity of components, we also see a lot of fairly sick instrument ideas being not only designed but also built and sold. The prices are in fact pretty cool, even though the production runs are limited. We are of course still seeing that many high quality products are being manufactured in low numbers at high cost.

What we are of course seeing is that a few huge companies are saturating the global markets with their products. This does of course influence the mainstream music. It does seem like the "climate" favours a certain conformity. The.. what should I say.. the "lesser" products are partly about simulacra music.. I am thinking "remix kits", sample loop CDs ( the instant hit construction kits) and all that. I wouldn´t call this good or bad. It is only obvious. It does of course affect the music made today. In a way, music=recorded music, and this is a "new" concept in recent music history.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 5:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Kassen wrote:
Yes, indeed, and I´d also like to note that many of the compositions more typical of that additude intentionally subvert maintream consumerist culture. This was already debated a few times on this site, but never primarily from a perspective of how composition relates to culture. Should we spawn a new thread? Does anybody want to (or dare to) start this with a little write up touching the place of our instruments within our culture, and how we relate to music based on our background?


These are interesting ideas.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 6:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

elektro80 wrote:
It does seem like the "climate" favours a certain conformity. The.. what should I say.. the "lesser" products are partly about simulacra music.. I am thinking "remix kits", sample loop CDs ( the instant hit construction kits) and all that. I wouldn´t call this good or bad. It is only obvious. It does of course affect the music made today. In a way, music=recorded music, and this is a "new" concept in recent music history.


Yes, I´m trying to point out a situation, not so much place blame or attach value. Clearly many people liked Mao and clearly many people find top40 radio and grooveboxes very worthy of their attention. I´m not claiming this needs solving or even that I have a better alternative that should be adopted right now. I´d just like to look at our own culture like we look at "forgein" culture like communist China. China apears backwards in "our" eyes yet many of the things that apear most "forward thinking" are not that far from communism in some ways. This is very interesting to me.

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