Saturday, December 30, 2006

Wiener problems

When I was in college, we talked often about the discriminatory practices of the Vienna Philharmonic and various German orchestras. (Here is the best example of German discrimination.) It has now been almost ten years since the Vienna Philharmonic announced that it had stopped prohibiting women from being members, when on February 27, 1997 it shifted harpist Anna Lelkes from an associate (she had been playing with the orchestra for 26 years) to an official member. William Osborne, the husband of Abbie Conant from the German story, has checked in on the VPO to see how things are going a decade later. The highlights:
  • The harpist was forced into retirement after four years.
  • The ratio of male to female is 136 to 1 in the Philharmonic, 141 to 4 in the Opera Orchestra.
  • There is only one person of color in the orchestra
  • The only female violinist was fired in very troubling circumstances.
Read all of the maddening details in Osborne's thorough article.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Imani Winds Podcast

WGBH is aggressively promoting its various podcasts, sending out press releases to bloggers. January 1st has the Vienna Philharmonic's traditional New Year's Day Concert streamed live from 11 am to 1 pm. Full details here, streaming here.

On January 11th the Imani Winds are featured on the "Basic Black" show and podcast.
In describing their music The New York Times said, “Imani Winds spices up chamber music with global flavors.” The quintet was founded in 1997 and its CD, The Classical Underground, was nominated for a Grammy in 2005 for Best Crossover Classical Album.

The "Basic Black" episode features an interview with guest host Howard Manly as well as performances in the WGBH studio.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What I got for Christmas

Two are continued efforts to grow my cornetto recordings collection, and three are continued efforts to grow my contemporary music collection. I enjoy pointing out that the seven-CD collection is of music composed by and performed by a person who gave me a hard time during a public interview. I don't take it personally, as Rzewski treats everyone that way. I also could see that he wanted to get to the truth, which I can respect. Plus I found his music very moving. The Moon, sun and all things is a fabulous collection of Baroque music from Latin America, performed by Ex Cathedra and the Quintessential Sackbut and Cornett Ensemble. Eighth Blackbird is poetry in sound, and I haven't had a chance to listen to the Golijov yet.

What is hip?

Phil Ford tells us why James Brown was so funky. (It's the rhythm, stupid!) On this post-Boxing Day evening I don't have much more to add, other than to suggest that timbre has something to do with it as well, from the chicken-scratch guitar that Phil describes to the percussive-melodic quality of JB's voice. The blurring of lines between melody and percussion through timbral miscues (for example, the percussive hits of the brass) move us to a different musical realm. Dare one call that realm "funk"?

Also see Scott McLemee's thoughts on the Godfather of Soul.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Anatomy of Analysis

This is one day short of a year late, but one of my former students just pointed out a criticism Jeremy Denk made of my class blog on Form and Analysis (itself almost two years late). This student was excited, as he is the "Snoop" [sic] that Jeremy quotes and interprets. Jeremy criticizes the use of terminology like "expository," "transitional" or "terminative" for their "fairly obvious idiocies of music theoretical jargon..." I would certainly agree that calling an opening section "expository" is not very illuminating, except it gets students to think about what makes a musical phrase expository. What is the difference between an opening exposition and an opening introduction? Do they sound different? Do they create different rhetorical functions in the piece? Does music have rhetorical functions? These jargonesque terms are the springboards into true music analysis, not the end result themselves. And I think most of the students' analyses show these investigations into their own views of music, other than the last mazurka analyses that were done during the last week of classes. Here is part of one of Spoonaloopa's analyses:
This piece is in sonata-rondo form, though I feel it leans more towards the rondo feel rather than sonata, primarily because the C section doesn't develop previous motives from the movement. Instead, it presents entirely new material, which is in a very different feel from the rest of the movement, which is very stormy and passionate.
Starting with the (oh so horrible) textbook definitions of sonata and rondo forms, he latches onto an important feature of this particular movement, the radical change in mood from the passionate storms of the first part to the calm waters of the middle section. But he also recognizes that this new section has a developmental feel, hence the label of sonata-rondo instead of rondo.

Jeremy himself tempers all his criticisms with humorous caveats at the end, which seem to be missed by some of his commentors. The relevant quotes to make this a timely post:
Let's imagine the baby Jesus, analyzing the song of the Magi. I think he would love and tolerate talk of cadences, even Schenkerian diagrams. Why do I imagine him treating theorists as he did Mary Magdelene? This suggests a conception of theory as a particularly unsexy form of prostitution. No, wait, I can do better: the expectancy of the Christmas ritual, the presents wrapped under the tree, the smell of the tree, the candles, the late night, the early morning awakening, stumbling out to the family room in your pajamas, getting ready to convert the whole beautiful waiting thing into a storm of crumpled paper. Sometimes it seems Theory wants you to unwrap the gift, but not to see what's inside. It is cold-hearted: it wants you to "understand" expectancy. But I assure you, Theory for all its jargon wants you to receive music's gift too; to receive with gratitude the ingenuity of the composer, the generosity of invention, to appreciate the process of composition, a kind of wrapping and unwrapping of the human spirit. That is why, finally, we suffer through Form and Analysis. Mr. Spiegelberg's students seem to be in good humor about the whole thing, interjecting irony, sarcasm, etc., which is a victory for both student and teacher.
I hate the idea that musicians suffer through theory and analysis courses. But I completely agree that they are meant to help unwrap the layers to perceive all the marvels of music. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Switch to Beta

I've switched to the new Blogger Beta, and updated my template. I debated whether to make a radical change in the design of the blog, but decided that I like the old version. I do like the new system of listing archived posts, and the Trackback "Links to this post" works now. I've added more categories to the blogroll and the music sites. What do you think.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Stocking Stuffer?

This will only encourage Patty, but here is the latest toy sensation that will be under all holiday flora this year, the Talking Trombone Teacher Doll.
Sample phrases include:

* "I think you should go with a bigger mouthpiece"
* "Nobody's playing 88H's anymore"
* "You'll never win an audition if you play it like that"
* "You need to get a Thayer conversion"
* "I'm sick of teaching, let's go get a beer"

What I'm doing this semester

I haven't written much about my teaching life lately, mostly because I've been so busy with my teaching life lately. But all my grades are turned in, and now I am done until August 22. Surely that is a typo, you are thinking, or DePauw has the longest winter break ever. But it is no error, and many DPU students and faculty will be back on campus January 3rd for Winter Term, or January 29 for the Spring Semester. The reason I have such a long break is because DPU has the most civilized approach to tenure, including a wonderful pre-tenure leave. This pseudo-sabbatical is taken in the fourth or fifth year to help bolster the files for tenure. I will be finishing four journal articles, heading off to the Netherlands, and hopefully starting a book (though the latter is not officially part of my sabbatical project). I am up for tenure next fall, so the extra time I have to do research and prepare my files will be put to good use. Hopefully the results will be as happy as Chad's.

Speaking of "humor"

Galen H. Brown has written the theory geek's version of The Night Before Christmas, entitled "A Visit From J.S. Bach". I think I will start using these various jokes as tests in theory classes, since that is the purpose of education anyway.

Just put me on the naughty list now

Over at Soho the Dog, Matthew has investigated Christmas hymns with statistical vigor, finding that many carols start on scale-degree five. He is uncertain as to why this is, though it is quite simple:

to celebrate the winter Sol-stice.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Billions of memorials

Today is the tenth anniversary of Carl Sagan’s death. In honor of him, Joel Scholsberg has announced a memorial blog-a-thon. Keeping to my area of expertise, I have decided to write about the music included on the Golden Record sent on the Voyager space probes. Carl Sagan chaired the committee that selected the images, sounds, and music recorded on the record. Wikipedia lists the musical selections, confirmed(?) by this Latvian site. The majority of the pieces are World Music, with a sprinkling of classical works (Holbourne's Fairie Round; Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, Partita No. 3 and Well-Tempered Clavier Prelude-n-Fugue; Mozart's Magic Flute; Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and String Quartet No. 13; and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring) and three pieces of popular music (Louis Armstrong's "Melancholy Blues", Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground", and Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode"). And those three popular pieces span jazz, blues, and rock. The newest composed piece was "Johnny B. Goode" as far as I could tell. I'm not an expert in ethnomusicology, so I don't know the history of most of those songs. So in 1977 the newest piece was over 20 years old, and by now it is over fifty years old. Dr. Sagan and his committee had only six months to pick the music, and clearly had been given the mandate to be as multicultural as possible, as evidenced by the fifty-five languages on the record. I'm sure the lack of new music was due to a fear of picking the '77 equivalent of Brittney Spears (the Bee Gees?) to send on a billion-year journey.

In related news, a student composer at Sagan's old stomping grounds of Cornell composed a tribute to him. Peter Salvi composed In Memoriam Carl Sagan in 1997 for flute, clarinet, and bassoon.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Gentlepersons, start your scores

I've received an announcement of another composition contest, this time via snail mail. The sponsor is the Music Department at California State University, Northridge. The details can be found here, but based on the discussion of the previous contest, the important facts are as follows:

1) There is an entry fee of $20 for each work submitted (maximum of 2 per composer allowed).
2) There is a cash prize of $1000, and a performance with the CSUN Symphony.
3) If you want your score or recordings back, send a SASE.
4) The scores are submitted anonymously.
5) The judges are Dan Hosken, Daniel Kessner, Liviu Marinescu, John Roscigno, and Elizabeth Sellers.
6) The only other criteria are the length (7-15 minutes) and the instrumentation (orchestra or chamber orchestra, no soloists).

The fee is less and the prize is more, but is that enough? Now fifty entries are needed to cover the cost. What are appropriate criteria to publish for judging a composition contest?

Monday, December 18, 2006

As DePauw conquers the blogosphere

A DePauw student has started two blogs: Music and Music Education and Composition Blog. Chris Simerman is a trombonist, music education major, and budding composer. The first blog is mostly on his old music ed. assignments, something that should make my colleagues very pleased. The only post thus far to the Composition blog is by Chris' co-blogger, Kyle Wernke. I'll be curious to see what happens with both blogs.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Composition Competition

I received an announcement of a new composition competiton from Joel Hoffman, Professor of Composition at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Music07 and eighth blackbird are pleased to announce a competition for composers:

There will be one prize, which consists of a performance by the premiere new music ensemble EIGHTH BLACKBIRD during Music07 (10 through 16 June, 2007 in Cincinnati, OH) and $500 in cash. One or more honorable mentions may also be awarded at the discretion of the judges (These awards do not include a performance or a cash prize).

Applicants can either apply to the competition or to Music07 or both.

The application fee for the competition is $25 (payable by check to“University of Cincinnati” and marked “Music07 competition fee”). The application fee for Music07 Is $25 (payable by check to “University of Cincinnati” and marked “Music07 application fee”). Each submitted composition must be accompanied by a separate application form and application fee. The competition reserves the right to not award any prizes. The decision of the judges is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

The competition will be judged by members of eighth blackbird and by the directors of MusicX. The competition will be judged anonymously; the score and CD should be marked only with a pseudonym. Accompanying the submission should be an envelope marked with the pseudonym on the outside and the application form with application fee on the inside.

The receipt deadline is 20 March, 2007. Results of the competition will be announced by 15 April. The instrumentation of eighth blackbird is: flute (piccolo, alto flute), clarinet (b-flat, a and bass), violin (viola), cello, percussion and piano. Composers are welcome to submit works either for the whole group or any sub-set of it. Participants may be citizens of any country, and there is no age limit. All submitted works should be 8-15 minutes in length. Submitted compositions cannot have been performed during previous editions of MusicX in Cincinnati.

Submission materials:
-Score (parts will be requested only of the winning composer)
-CD, either of a live performance or MIDI
(submissions without CD will also be considered)
-Application form (downloadable at and application fee, both of which in an envelope marked only with the pseudonym on the outside
-SASE, if you wish your materials returned
Music07 is the latest installment of the annual new music festival hosted at the University of Cincinnati. If you have questions, email Prof. Hoffman or eighth blackbird.

Update: Read the comments here and this post for arguments against this competition.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Heading to Groningen

I just found out that my proposed paper was accepted to the 9th International Conference of the Dutch-Flemish Society for Music Theory. As the link indicates, the subject of the conference is Improvisation: Analytical, Theoretical, and Critical Approaches". I'll include the abstract for my paper below, and would appreciate any questions or comments.

The ultimate goal of any improvisation pedagogy is the engendering of quick creativity. The ability to create with innovation and coherence is developed through the development of various cognitive skills. The improvisation pedagogy presented is based upon recent
cognitive studies, identifying what skills are necessary and how best to develop them. This method for stylistically-neutral improvisation is intended to fit within a core two-year aural skills sequence in post-secondary studies. Students learn to improvise in a collaborative environment, one that also encourages the development of keyboard skills. Working in pairs, the performers trade soloing and accompanying duties. This provides a safer environment for exploration, and frees the professor to evaluate performances. It also provides varied experiences from the different duties and from the alterations and imperfections inserted by the partner during practice. Studies such as Pressing (1984), Berliner (1994), Sarath (1996), Johnson-Laird (2002), and Mendonça and Wallace (2004) have stressed the importance of temporal cognition in improvised performance. Thus rhythmic and metric accuracy is placed at the forefront of this improvisation pedagogy. Memory is also a key component of improvisation. Performers must be able to remember what they already played and the form of the improvisation. Kenny and Gellrich (2002) describe eight cognitive processes during improvisation, including three temporal levels each of recall and anticipation. Memorization of self-composed melodies and mimicking exercises help to develop these skills. Sarath's (1996) concept of cognitive event cycles is taken as an important measure of improvement. Greater frequencies of cognitive events, as measured through numbers of possible solutions to a given musical event, give rise to more creative responses to stimulus from the improviser and from collaborators. This is evidenced by variety demonstrated in multiple performances of the same exercise. Pressing (2000) provides an estimate of the expected limits for "improvisational novelty" at ten actions per second, based upon error correction times measured by Welford (1976). This paper summarizes the various cognitive models of improvisation and the framework for the pedagogical system. Sample exercises are demonstrated for both instructional and assessment purposes.
Berliner, Paul. 1994. Thinking in Jazz.
Johnson-Laird, P.N. 2002. How jazz musicians improvise. Music Perception 19(3), 415-442.
Kenny and Gellrich
Mendonça, David, and William A. Wallace. 2004. Cognition in jazz improvisation: an exploratory study. 26th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.
Pressing, Jeff. 1984. Cognitive processes in improvisation. In Cognitive processes in the perception of art, (ed. W.R. Crozier and A.J. Chapman). North-Holland, Amsterdam.
Pressing. 2000. Improvisation: methods and models. In Generative processes in music.
Sarath, Edward. 1996. A new look at improvisation. Journal of Music Theory, Vol 40, No. 1, 1-38.
Welford, A.T. 1976. Skilled Performance.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Looking out for #1

Inspired by John Scalzi's list of the top 51 SF/F personal blogs, I decided to compile a list of the top 51 classical music blogs. I decided not to count aggregators like Jeff Harrington's New Music reBlog or BlogNoggle, and used rather arbitrary lines on whether a blog wrote enough about classical music to count. I did not include any blogs that have been defunct since the beginning of 2006. I note that being a professional writer does not guarantee a high ranking, nor does the musical output of the blogger. I have decided to stick with 51, to continue a tradition that will befuddle e-archaeologists in centuries to come. The technorati ranking is listed, and a designation of Academic Musicologist or Theorist (A), Composer (C), Critic (Crit), Operablog(O), Listener (L), or the instrument of the author. It is amazing how many opera blogs there are, justifying their own category. Please let me know if I missed any blogs that have a higher ranking than 285,000. Update: Marc Geelhoed pointed out that I misranked his blog. Rather than correct every single number after his, he gets a special ranking of 21a.
Update #2: ANABlog, a group blog of the Analog Arts Ensemble, holds the coveted 20a slot with a ranking of 89,361.
Update #3: Two more blogs brought to my attention: Dr. Dick's Blog (180,464 Dick Strawser radio director) and ClassicallyHip (264,567 John Clare violin). Please also let me know if there are any mistakes with name, rank, or designation. In fact, I've decided to renumber the list, cutting off the bottom ones to stay at 51. ClassicallyHip just misses the cut now, but I'll definitely keep this blog in mind. I'll do a new list after the spring semester, perhaps a regular feature.
Update #4: NewMusicBox would be in the #2 position if I included it (22,637). Should I include these e-magazine types of blogs?

1 The Rest is Noise: 6,577 Alex Ross (Crit)
2 Sequenza21: 23,260 Jerry Bowles (C)
3 On an Overgrown Path: 25,137 Bob Shingleton (producer)
4 Ionarts: 27,639 Charles T. Downey (A)
5 PostClassic: 31,123 Kyle Gann (C)
6 Sandow: 36,793 Greg Sandow (Crit)
7 Sounds and Fury: 44,607 AC Douglas (L)
8 La Cieca: 45,144 James Jorden (O)
9 The Rambler: 50,718 Tim Rutherford-Johnson (A)
10 Adaptistration: 54,276 Drew McManus (orchestra management)
11 Night after Night: 56,128 Steve Smith (Crit)
12 Think Denk: 57,134 Jeremy Denk (piano)
12 Jessica Duchen: 57,134 (Crit)
14 Aworks: 58,196 Robert Gable (L)
15 Oboeinsight: 59,315 Patty Mitchell (oboe)
16 Terminaldegree: 60,452 (kazoo)
17 Musical Perceptions: 78,160 Me (A)
18 The Well-Tempered Blog: 80,219 Bart Collins (piano)
19 Red Black Window: 84,277 Roger Bourland (C)
20 The Concert: 86,494 Anne-Carolyn Bird (voice)
21 ANABlog: 89,361 Analog Arts Ensemble
22 The Standing Room: 97,231 Monsieur C (L and voice?)
23 Deceptively Simple: 97,392 Marc Geelhoed (Crit)
24 Classical Pontifications: 100,373 Professor Heebie McJeebie (C TANDY)
25 Listen: 100,373 Steve Hicken (C and Crit)
26 Meanwhile, here in France: 103,674 Ruth (cello)
26 Soho the Dog: 103,674 Matthew Guerreri (C)
28 The Iron Tongue of Midnight: 107,080 Lisa Hirsch (Crit)
29 Sieglinde’s Diaries: 110,824 Leon Dominguez (O)
30 Dial “M” for Musicology: 114,825 Phil Ford and Jonathan Bellman (A)
31 My Favorite Intermissions: 119,158 Maury D’annato (O)
32 Wellsung: 119,158 Alex and Jonathan (O)
33 Eric Edberg: 123,899 (cello)
34 In the Wings: 128,993 Heather Heise (piano)
35 Renewable Music: 134,457 Daniel Wolf (C)
36 Classical Music: 134,457 Janelle Gelfand (Crit)
37 Kenneth Woods: 154,184 (conductor)
37 Trrill: 154,184 Nick Scholl (O)
39 Twang twang twang: 161,853 Helen Radice (harp)
40 Fredosphere: 170,319 Fred Himebaugh (C)
41 Opera Chic: 170,319 (O)
41 On a Pacific Aisle: 170,319 Josh Kosman (Crit)
41 An Unamplified Voice: 170,319 JSU (O)
44 Vissi d’Amore: 170,622 Ariadne Obnoxious (voice)
45 Felsenmusick: 179,647 Daniel Felsenfeld (C)
46 Dr. Dick's Blog: 180,464 Dick Strawser (radio director)
47 Tears of a Clownsilly: 190,048 PWS (student?)
48 NY Opera Fanatic: 201,435 Roy Wood (O)
49 Campbell Vertesi: 228, 958 (voice)
50 Café Aman: 244,758 Anastasia Tsioulcas (Crit)
51 Tomness: 245,375 Tom Meglioranza (voice)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I Blame Timothy Hutton

via Eric, a wonderful rant on Pachelbel's infamous Canon in D. One of Eric's commentor's asks whether the piece is really a passacaglia rather than a canon, and the answer is yes and no. A passacaglia has a recurring bass line with varied melodies, and Rob Paravonian points Pachelbel's recurring bass line out quite effectively. A canon has multiple parts playing the same melody in imitation, which the upper three parts in Pachelbel's piece do. Fun facts about canons: The melody doesn't have to be in the same key for all the voices, resulting in canons at the fifth or ninth, and it could be played backwards (crab canon) or upside-down (mirror canon). The imitated melody could also be played at twice or half the length of the original, called a mensural canon.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


With the candidates for our dean search coming in these last two weeks, we music faculty have been contemplating what kind of students we want to attract and how we want to teach them. Eric has researched entrepreneurship options at schools of music. I have been thinking about the academic skills I want to impart. One of my students asked why they need to learn library skills when they can ask a librarian for help. While an initial reaction is that the student was exhibiting laziness, the question could also be in pursuit of efficiency. We stress to our students that time management is very important. Now, bringing up efficient use of time is a double-edged sword. Librarian access is a limited resource. If a class of twenty is assigned research papers due in a week, all twenty will want help from the music librarian. Some of those twenty will have to wait several days to meet with the librarian, and if they wait several days to start the research, that is not an efficient use of time. But perhaps we need to be teaching our students how better to use the human resources of the university. Perhaps library instruction should focus on how to use the librarians, i.e. what types of questions the students should craft to ask. We have been wrestling with the design of our First Year Seminar in the School of Music. I think an important component should be on how the students should use professors, tutors, staff, fellow students. What are appropriate ways to ask for help from a peer, without cheating on the assignment? What is the best way to develop a relationship with a professor, and for what reasons?

As I think more about this, the more it relates to Eric's research about entrepreneurship. Carving out a market involves networking with potential funders, potential clients, potential workers. Making music involves dealing with audiences, fellow musicians, etc. Even research, that potentially hermetic practice, necessitates interactions with editors, program committees, collaborators. While there are facts and practices, the mysteries of the music discipline, that must be imparted to the students, there are also the joys of interactions that also should be taught, and the ethics that govern those interactions. (The latter could make a nice tie-in to the coming Ethics Center.) Life should not be lived alone.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Classical Recordings: I'm not dead yet!

I'll admit it, I was the skeptical college professor mentioned by Eric Edberg. After that talk, I also did some googling. Searching the RIAA website, I found their Research and Data site, with total sales and Consumer Profiles. First, the whole recording industry has gone through a cycle in the last ten years. In 1996 $12.5 billion of recordings were sold*. In 2005 $12.3 billion were sold. The high point was in 1999 ($14.6 billion), during the crazy days of Amazon free shipping. The low was in 2003 ($11.9 billion). Classical recording sales has followed the same trend through this time, maintaining a rather constant 3% of market share. In digital sales, however, the Classical genre does much better. As a Guardian article from last spring points out, classical music accounts for 12% of iTunes sales. And 2005 Year-End Statistics for RIAA show that the recording market started in an upward trend after 2003 when download sales started being recorded. But this is sales, not production.

I couldn't find any industry-wide data, but I looked at Deutsche Grammaphon's catalog to tally their number of releases each year. Here it is:
Year # of releases
1982 8
1983 18
1984 29
1985 38
1986 19
1987 75
1988 52
1989 72
1990 56
1991 39
1992 53
1993 72
1994 86
1995 120
1996 90
1997 88
1998 94
1999 109
2000 85
2001 77
2002 116
2003 129
2004 145
2005 235
2006 273

A very steady upward climb, with the normal fluctuations expected from a random walk (so I understand from some Econ colleagues). Granted, the huge increase in 2005 and 2006 include re-releases as DG (and all the other record labels) rush to digitize their back catalog. But even so, there are plenty of new releases in these last two years as well. Finally, I point to a relatively old Wired article on the Long Tail. I think too many of my colleagues and their acquaintances are still thinking in the old brick-n-mortor economic mentality, including the speaker from last night. The new digital economy allows for niche markets to thrive, including the various Classical niches. Independent labels such as Canteloupe have taken off, with great access through Amazon, iTunes, eTunes, etc.

I will agree that the major labels did cut many of their artists during the late 90's, probably most from panic when sales temporarily levelled off in 1997. As Greg Sandow (via Eric) points out, Classical recordings did rely upon subsidies, so cutting high-priced artists would shave some expenses, at least from a knee-jerk middle-manager perspective. But I will have to see conclusive data refuting what I have seen, to convince me that the Classical recording industry has indeed died. So consider this a bleg, repeating what Eric asks for: actual statistics along the lines of: "In 1980, there were X new classical releases; in 1990, Y; in 2000 Z; etc."

*Estimated, based on shipping data.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Doing what theorists' do best, Stephen Davies is taking a simple question and making it all hard and stuff. The question: What is music? One might think they have an easy answer to this, especially if they took a course on aesthetics. But then Davies suggests some musical works:
Imagine a fugue written for a synthesizer. It is typical of the genre with this exception: its lowest note is at 30,000 hertz, above the range of human hearing. Also, consider a piece of about 300 measures in common time. In most respects, the work is ordinary, but the tempo is indicated as 'crotchet = five years.' The opening sixteen-bar theme lasts for more than three centuries; the performance is completed after 6 millennia. In a third case, a work specified for solo piccolo contains a single note, the C at 128 hertz. This tone lies more than two octaves below the instrument's range. Are these pieces musical works?
Related to TTU's memory of another Davies example, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony played at quarter note = 1 year, I give you art imitating philosophy.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

We Can't Dance

Dave Munger describes an experiment by Jessica Foxton et al. They proved that not only are tone deaf people (amusics) unable to carry a tune, they are unable to clap one. Read Dave's post to find out why these unfortunate people should never be on Dancing With the Stars.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Conversations about music

Over at Making Light, a wonderful discussion about music is taking place. The participants are all laity as far as I can tell, yet all enthusiasts and remarkably erudite in expressing their impressions. One commenter admits that he just cannot appreciate Ralph Vaughan Williams, and when asked he gives very good reasons*:
Listening to that piece replicates every experience I have ever had with the music of Vaughan Williams - and I assure you, I've tried to listen to it. It seems to me that he endlessly tiptoes around in a formless cloud of sound out of which at any moment an actual melody might emerge, but one never does. I can see no consequence, no meaning to it. It doesn't make any sense to me. I can't say why not. It just doesn't, and all I experience is vague but mounting irritation, frustration and, eventually, resentment.
And after this admission the other commentors do not ridicule him for his lack of appreciation, but share their own loves and hates. When I asked my students how to debate about music, this type of discussion was one possibility I was thinking about.

*Reasons that you may not agree with (I certainly don't, finding Vaughan Williams to be very comprehensible), but ones that can be understood and respected.

Quilisma (kwi-LEEZ-muh)

Virginia Tech has put together a Multimedia Music Dictionary. Besides a brief definition with any appropriate hyperlinked cross-references, each word has a recorded pronunciation, with quite zesty diction. There are musical examples, as long as you have the correct CD, and there are some quizzes (though I haven't found them yet). (via Elaine Fine as I get caught up on my blog reading)

Cats and Dogs, Living Together! promises to test you for synaesthesia (via Mind Hacks). It's a good thing Fred is still offline.

A mathematician has taken it upon himself to create music expressing well-known mathematical proofs.

And cookies have just come out of the oven, so I must go!

Perchance to Meme

I'm late on this, because I had taken my bimonthly sabbatical from blogging. I hope it doesn't screw up Scott's results, since I was aware of the experiment about two days ago, but wasn't ready to dust off Blogger yet. The idea is to trace the spread of a meme through the blogosphere. Scott thinks that
...they acquire minor prominence among low-traffic blogs before being picked up by a high-traffic one, from which many more low-traffic blogs snatch them. Contra blog-triumphal models of memetic bootstrapping, I believe most memes are—to borrow a term from Daniel Dennett's rebuttal of punctuated equilibrium—"skyhooked" into prominence by high-traffic blogs.

As I heard about the meme from Chad Orzel (I think), who has a relatively high-traffic site, I would be in the latter stage of low-traffic blogs snatching at his proffered meme.

Please help the experiment along by following the directions:

  1. Write a post linking to this one in which you explain the experiment. (All blogs count, be they TypePad, Blogger, MySpace, Facebook, &c.)
  2. Ask your readers to do the same. Beg them. Relate sob stories about poor graduate students in desperate circumstances. Imply I'm one of them. (Do whatever you have to. If that fails, try whatever it takes.)
  3. Ping Technorati.

Who knows, you may help to crash a campus server.