Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Draft

ClapClap Clap Clap Clap Clap Clap Clap Clap ClapClap Clap Clap Clap.

He just couldn’t keep the beat, unlike everyone around him. Did they clap on the beat or off the beat? He couldn’t remember. Not that that would make a difference. It is supposed to be natural. Heck, babies prefer bouncing on the beat, and can even be trained to distinguish different rhythms. He was a baby once, surely he preferred bouncing on the beat when he was seven months old. So why was he unable to find the beat now? He had just read that therapists were using musical rhythms to retrain stroke victims how to walk. These people are brain-damaged, and yet they can feel something he can’t! He was told to relax, to let the music wash over him. Let his body move to the music, don’t make the body move to the music. But he had never been encouraged to lose control like that. His parents told him to act his age. His teachers told him to stop fidgeting at his desk. His girlfriend… well, he was highly encouraged to maintain strict control of his hands. Society expected him to be manly, rigid and emotionless. Was it too late to learn how to let go, how to let his body react to the music the way it used to when he was a baby?

Clap Clap Clap Clap Clap Clap Clap Clap Clap Clap Clap.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Movie help

Yes, this is an official bleg. One of my colleagues is running an Oscar pool (no money, just bragging rights). Despite having seen almost none of the nominated movies, I feel very confident about my picks in all the main categories. After all, I listen to NPR's Fresh Air regularly. But, ironically, the categories I feel I have no clue in are the soundtracks. Perhaps it is because I care most about these categories, and don't want to make a rash decision based on no information (I've only seen one of the movies). I don't feel the same way about acting, so I'm willing to go out on a limb with no reasoning whatsoever. Anyway, here are the categories and the nominees. Tell me who you think will win the Oscar, and why.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Alexandre Despiat)
Defiance (James Newton Howard)
Milk (Danny Elfman)
Slumdog Millionaire (A.R. Rahman)
WALL-E (Thomas Newman)

“Down to Earth” from WALL-E (Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman)
“Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire (A.R. Rahman and Gutzar)
“O Saya” from Slumdog Millionaire (A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam)

As a related bleg, I'm also not certain about the short films (documentary short subject, Animated short film, and Live Action short film). Any advice on those also appreciated, but I won't clutter the blog with those more unrelated topics.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

SunPod: Top 12

Since I had furloughed myself during the end-of-year time when everyone lists things from the year, I missed naming the top tracks I'd listened to on iTunes.  So I'll do it now, as a very late FriPod.

1.  "Creep" by Thom Yorke, performed by the Edmund Welles Quartet.  Play count = 38.
2.  "God Only Knows" by Brian Wilson, performed by Petra Haden.  Play count = 38.
3.  "Down to the River to Pray" performed by Alison Kraus on the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack.  Play count = 34.
4.  "Luna" from Ayre by Osvaldo Golijov, performed by Dawn Upshaw.  Play count = 34.
5.  "Hope and Memory" by Howard Shore on the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King soundtrack.  Play count = 34.
6.  "The End of All Things" by Howard Shore on the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King soundtrack.  Play count = 33.
7.  "I am a man of constant sorrow" performed by the Soggy Bottom Boys on the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack.  Play count = 33.
8.  "The Grey Havens" by Howard SHore on the LOTR: ROK soundtrack.  Play count = 31.
9.  Saltarello detto del Naldi by Giralamo Fantini, performed by the Parley of Instrument / Stephen Keavy / Crispian Steele-Perkins.  Play count = 31.
10. "O magnum mysterium" by Morten Lauridsen, performed by the Robert Shaw Festival and Chamber Singers.  Play count = 31.
11.  Sonata no. 13 from Sonatas and Interludes by John Cage.  Play count = 31.
12.  "Ich Klag Mein Not, O Herr Mein Gott" a 6, by Paul Kugelmann, performed by the Copenhagen Cornetts & Sackbuts.  Play count = 31.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Hierarchic asymmetry

Back when I was teaching my first music theory class as a graduate student, I was caught completely off guard by a student's complaint. We were talking about the difference between simple meter and compound meter, which I regarded as a very basic topic. In one the beat is divided into two equal parts, and in the other the beat is divided into three equal parts. The exemplars for each of these would be 4/4 and 6/8. The quarter note beat in 4/4 is divided into two eighth notes, and the dotted-quarter beat in 6/8 is divided into three eighth notes. Easy, right? Well, this student, who was quite bright, said that 6/8 wasn't really a compound meter, because the eighth notes themselves didn't divide into three equal parts. I thought he was making a common mistake of assuming that eighth notes were the beat in 6/8, but he wasn't . He expected that if the beat is divided into three equal parts, then each subsequent lower level in the metric hierarchy would also divide by threes. This is actually a very rare phenomenon, not even covered by normal metric notation. There is no time signature that indicates a beat that will be divided into 9 equal parts, much less 27 or 81 parts. The basic assumption in Western notated music is for beats to be grouped by 2's or 3's (or some combination thereof) and to be divided by 2 or 3, but that all lower levels of subdivision are by 2.

I never really thought about this lack of symmetry, until I was recalling an argument about chord and key relationships. Petr Janata and his colleagues have done some interesting work on brain imaging and tonal sensitivity. But at one conference he presented a torus mapping of key relations, playing along a chord sequence that modulated from one key to the next. This mapping was meant to represent brain activity, showing how the brain interprets different modulations as close or far. As expected, the modulations followed a circle of fifths pattern, but what I found quite disturbing was that mode was not taken into account. At one point the progression went from C minor to G major. I pointed out to him that this was a very distant key relationship in music theory, which he found surprising. After all, C minor chords go to G major chords all the time. We then started a debate about the difference between chord relationships and key relationships, with Carol Krumhansl coming up to keep us from punching each other. (Not really, but it was an interesting and sprited debate, including the aforementioned Dr. Krumhansl). Carol did the seminal work on tonal hierarchies, using probe tones to determine the closest cognitive notes to a given tonic, and helped develop a key-finding algorithm that might mimic how our brains determine what key we are in. What I realized that I knew to be false, but that these scientists had assumed to be true, was that the hierarchy of relationships between notes and chords would extend to keys without change.

Why is it that Western music* does not encourage complete symmetry among all levels of a given feature? Could it be like the asymmetric design of the diatonic scale, working as a signpost to help us identify where we are? The assymmetry between keys and chords could help distinguish the scope of relations we are perceiving, so we don't get the two mixed up. Likewise with meter, to help identify the beat more clearly.

*If anyone knows about any other music traditions that do include non-binary metric symmetry or note/harmony/tonality symmetry, let me know.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

SNOB-MUSAC Google Edition

As promised, here is the listing of classical blogs by Google backlinks. Read the previous post for information on abbreviations. Again, thanks to Ben Smith of Classical Convert for help in tabulating this.

1 The Rest is Noise: 8350 [+620] Alex Ross (Crit)
2 Night after Night: 3100 [+700] Steve Smith (Crit)
3 Sequenza21: 2890 [+20] Jerry Bowles (C)
4 PostClassic: 2880 [-190] Kyle Gann (C)
5 Sounds and Fury: 2730 [-10] AC Douglas (L)
6 Jessica Duchen: 2550 [-270] (Crit)
7 Sandow: 2330 [-840] Greg Sandow (consultant)
7 On an Overgrown Path: 2330 [-1350] Bob Shingleton (producer)
9 La Cieca: 2140 [+50] James Jorden (O)
10 Soho the Dog: 2130 [-190] Matthew Guerreri (C)
11 Think Denk: 1900 [-260] Jeremy Denk (piano)
12 Ionarts: 1820 [-1630] Charles T. Downey (A)
13 The Standing Room: 1730 [-490] Monsieur C (voice)
13 Aworks: 1730 [+30] Robert Gable (L)
15 Oboeinsight: 1670 [-110] Patty Mitchell (oboe)
15 The Iron Tongue of Midnight: 1670 [-920] Lisa Hirsch (Crit)
17 Darcy Argue's Secret Society: 1650 [+890] Darcy James Argue (piano and C)
18 Deceptively Simple: 1550 [-80] Marc Geelhoed (Crit/administration)
19 The Concert: 1500 [-620] Anne-Carolyn Bird (voice)
20 Musical Perceptions: 1470 [-850] Me (A)
21 An Unamplified Voice: 1460 [-1910] JSU (O) [the big mover of the list!]
22 Listen: 1420 [-110] Steve Hicken (C and Crit)
23 The Rambler: 1340 [-330] Tim Rutherford-Johnson (A)
24 Prima La Musica, poi le parole: 1320 [+190] Sarah Noble (O)
25 Collaborative Piano: 1290 [+418] Chris Foley (piano)
26 Fredosphere: 1260 [+1030] Fred Himebaugh (C)
27 On a Pacific Aisle: 1240 [+626] Josh Kosman (Crit)
28 Vilaine fille: 1160 [-570] (Crit)
29 Slipped Disc: 1150 [-1060] Norman Lebrecht (consultant)
30 Daily Observations: 1140 [+305] Charles Noble (viola)
31 Musical Assumptions: 1120 [-30] Elaine Fine (C and viola)
32 Renewable Music: 1100 [+20] Daniel Wolf (C)
33 A View from the Podium: 1090 [+80] Kenneth Woods (conductor)
34 Roger Bourland: 1070 [+161] Roger Bourland (C)
35 Yankeediva: 1010 [+169] Joyce DiDonato (voice)
36 Nico Muhly: 975 [+284] (C)
37 Felsenmusick: 925 [-7] Daniel Felsenfield (C)
38 Mind the Gap: 923 [new to list] Molly Sheridan (Crit)
39 The Well-Tempered Blog: 921 [-219] Bart Collins (piano)
40 Notes From the Kelp: 908 [+79] Alex Shapiro (C)
41 My Favorite Intermissions: 897 [-32] Maury D'annato (O)
42 Thirteen Ways: 876 [-16] eighth blackbird (ensemble)
43 Adaptistration: 859 [+100] Drew McManus (arts administration)
44 Sieglinde’s Diaries: 851 [-569] Leon Dominguez (O)
45 ANABlog: 796 [-614] Analog Arts Ensemble
46 Sounds Like Now: 792 [+252] Brian Sacawa (saxophone)
47 Wellsung: 790 [-280] Alex and Jonathan (O)
48 Monotonous Forest: 760 [+151] Bruce Hodges (AD)
49 Trrill: 753 [-687] Nick Scholl (O)
50 Intermezzo : 743 [+196] (O)

Google backlinks will count links from non-blogs, and don't expire after 6 months, so older blogs have an advantage. There was a lot of movement on this list, including the complete dropping of Opera Chic from 2nd to 56th! The average change in number of backlinks among the top 50 was -139, the average among all 252 blogs was -38. I had another thought while polishing this list on why there are fewer links to classical music blogs. I know of many bloggers who have become active on Facebook or have created their own online social forums ( for one). Perhaps these opportunities to interact have reduced links as means of talking between blogs. I should also acknowledge that AC Douglas has found Google links to be fluctuating wildly right now, so any drops could be affected by that.

One blog that I had linked to in the Best of the Rest is now in the top 50, Monotonous Forest. I don't know if I helped beyond the one or two backlinks I personally contributed, but it is good to see some new blood.


Here is SNOB-MUSAC (the Semi-annual Naming Of Blogs Mostly Used to Scribble About Classical music), only one month late (again)! This is the version based upon Technorati. The google version will be posted shortly. I'd like to thank Ben Smith from Classical Convert for helping me in checking the stats on 252 blogs. The list includes the change in Technorati authority this time, so you can see how much movement there was.

The list shows the rank, the blog, the TA and change from the last listing, the author(s), and the category: C = composer, Crit = critic, O = opera, A = academic, L = listener, AD = arts director, and the rest are self explanatory.

1 The Rest is Noise: 546 [+49] Alex Ross (Crit)
2 Opera Chic: 153 [+6] (O)
3 PostClassic: 129 [0] Kyle Gann (C)
4 Sequenza21: 125 [-26] Jerry Bowles (C)
5 Nico Muhly: 123 [+5] (C)
6 Sandow: 107 [0] Greg Sandow (Consultant)
7 Ionarts: 97 [-6] Charles T. Downey (A)
8 Soho the Dog: 88 [+5] Matthew Guerreri (C)
9 La Cieca: 80 [-21] James Jorden (O)
10 Jessica Duchen: 78 [+7] (Crit)
11 On an Overgrown Path: 77 [-14] Bob Shingleton (producer)
11 Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: 77 [+8] (piano, C)
13 Dial “M” for Musicology: 75 [-18] Phil Ford and Jonathan Bellman (A)
14 Think Denk: 73 [0] Jeremy Denk (piano)
15 Mostly Opera: 66 [+4] (O)
16 Adaptistration: 63 [-35] Drew McManus (orchestra management)
17 The Rambler: 59 [+6] Tim Rutherford-Johnson (A)
18 Classical Life: 55 [-32] Timothy Mangan (Crit)
19 Oboeinsight: 54 [-5] Patty Mitchell (oboe)
20 Yankeediva: 52 [+7] Joyce DiDonato (voice)
21 Musical Perceptions: 51 [-25] Me (A)
21 Mad Musings of Me: 51 [-2] Gertsamtkunstwerk (O)
23 Sounds and Fury: 50 [-20] AC Douglas (L)
24 Music Meets Tech: 49 [-656] Hugh Sung (piano)
25 Deceptively Simple: 46 [-16] Marc Geelhoed (Crit/orchestra administration)
26 Collaborative Piano: 45 [-33] Chris Foley (piano)
27 Renewable Music: 44 [+3] Daniel Wolf (C)
28 The Iron Tongue of Midnight: 43 [0] Lisa Hirsch (Crit)
29 CBC Radio 2: 42 [-16] Li Robbins (radio director)
30 The Standing Room: 38 [-18] Monsieur C (voice)
31 Jason Heath's Double Bass Blog: 37 [-43] (bass)
32 The Concert: 34 [-26] Anne-Carolyn Bird (voice)
33 An Unamplified Voice: 34 [+7] JSU (O)
33 Sieglinde’s Diaries: 34 [-17] Leon Dominguez (O)
33 Arts Addict: 34 [0] Jason Heath (bass) yes, a second blog on the list
36 Night after Night: 33 [-37] Steve Smith (Crit)
37 Terminaldegree: 32 [+12] Terminaldegree (kazoo)
38 Portland Cello Project: 31 [+11] Portland Cello Project (cello ensemble)
39 Prima La Musica, poi le parole: 30 [+5] Sarah Noble (O)
40 Wellsung: 29 [0] Alex and Jonathan (O)
40 Africlassical: 29 [-9] William J. Zick (A)
42 A View from the Podium: 28 [-11] Kenneth Woods (conductor)
42 Roger Bourland: 28 [-26] Roger Bourland (C)
42 The Gathering Note: 28 [new to list] Zach Carstensen (Crit)
45 Intermezzo: 27 [+4] (O)
45 Catalysts & Connections: 27 [+4] Evan Tobias (Educator)
47 The Well-Tempered Blog: 26 [-9] Bart Collins (piano)
47 My Favorite Intermissions: 26 [-12] Maury D’annato (O)
47 Diaries: 26 [-80] (violin)
50 Musical Assumptions: 25 [-12] Elaine Fine (C and viola)

A few blogs returned to the list this time around, plus some that I had been tracking for a while (cyber stalking!) but hadn't made it to the top 50 yet. Otherwise mostly just a reordering of the usual suspects. The average change in Technorati Authority (the number of unique blogs that linked to that blog in the last six months) for the top 50 blogs was -21.1. The average change for all 252 blogs was -4.7. I don't know why there was such a drop. It could be an effect of the economy, with more people out looking for jobs. It could be due to the age of the classical blogosphere, with less emphasis on linking to each other as more and more blogs appear and the older ones are old and established. Or it could be due to unique reasons for each blogger. I stopped blogging for over a month, and was very sporadic before that so it is no surprise that my Authority dropped.