Perceptions about music, perceptions that affect music, perceptions colored by music, perceptions expressed by music.
Monday, August 30, 2004
What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! (say it again)
First, what military or political theory would justify the continued pursuit of a war that can't be won? We cannot afford the continued expenses to wage war in perpetuity. These expenses include financial costs, soldiers' lives, and the erosion of civil liberties. While reasonable people are willing to make sacrifices to achieve greater goods, they are not willing to make continuous sacrifices with no achievement in sight.
Second, the current administration has used the phrase "war on terror" to justify crackdowns on civil liberties and sweeping new powers for the president: Because "we are fighting a war right now," we should detain people without trials. Because of the war we should not question the president or change to a different leader. This war has been used to excuse the outing of CIA agents, the squashing of the press and protestors, and the denial of legal rights to both foreigns and U.S. citizens. If this war will never be over, then the Republicans are really shooting for a permanent state of martial law.
Forever wars are the stuff of Orwell and Haldeman, scifi visions of bleak dystopias. The permanent war is not the basis for a free and democratic society.
Friday, August 27, 2004
Class Blog is Up
The students are required to make at least five comments each week on each others posts, and at least one posted article each week. I'm looking forward to seeing how their writing and critical thinking skills improve through the semester. Feel free to make suggestions to the students on their posts, or to me on the design of the blog project.
Update! I have been accused of oppressing my students' constitutional rights by requiring them to blog.
It may be fun to keep an eye on this professor's experiment in involuntary blog servitude, which I would have thought would be unconstitutional, but hey, they're only students, it's not like they deserve to have rights or something.
I know my students sometimes call me a slavedriver, but I thought it was a term of endearment. Hmm...
Thursday, August 26, 2004
It is curious that none of these visitors have left comments. Neither Virginia nor Tim have comments enabled on their blogs, so perhaps their regular readers aren't used to commenting. Eszter Hargittai has written about the democratic value of comments, allowing nonblogging people to have a voice in the blogosphere. Stand up and allow your voices be heard, people!
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
It will be interesting to see if class blogging takes off as an academic tool, or if it is just a fad. I'll let you know how I feel after the semester is over.
Saturday, August 21, 2004
But wait! The scandal continues. Breiner isn't really Canadian, he is Czech. I knew the Europeans were behind this. They want to weaken our position in the world by playing our heroic and warmongering anthem with sappy strings instead of the brass and percussion that God intended. What do they think music is for, creating harmony?
Friday, August 20, 2004
What so softly we hail...
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Monday, August 16, 2004
The other three articles are more standard, dealing with school age children. The results are interesting, though not any different than The Developmental Psychology of Music and not as detailed. I don't think I will use this book in my psychology of music course, though I will point it out to students who are interested in infant development as their individual project.
Tootin' Indiana's horns*
*I picked the title just to have an excuse to write "Tootin'."
Friday, August 13, 2004
A new online music journal
In Defense of Theory
Jean claims that the choices for musical discussion are to A) not talk about music, B) reduce music to equations and logic, or C) rely upon vague isms. This ignores options such as counterpoint, texture, motives, harmonic categories (Hindemith, Schenker, Riemann, extended chords or basic triadic harmony), rhythm, hermeneutics, semiotics (though Jean does quote Nattiez), reception theory, phenomenology, or a whole slew of other means of analysis that don’t have equations as the answer. They do rely upon logic, but usually logic of the artistic kind, rather than symbolic logic. Schenker’s theories talk about transformations and operations as if it is math, but he designed these operations upon the logic that tonal music follows, not upon artificially-imposed mathematical rules. This is basically the same for other types of analysis, with various levels of assumptions or empirical bases.
Next, I would challenge Jean to make the distinction between language and math. Math is a language, designed to communicate ideas either precisely or imprecisely, just as other languages can. It is not inhuman, as Jean suggests, as it was designed by humans. It can describe abstract ideals or pragmatic facts, and do so elegantly or clumsily. The English language also shares these qualities, and can be just as stultifying as any mathematical description. And how much math is considered unacceptable? Bach was fond of encoding numerological symbols in his music, Bartòk utilized the Fibonacci Series/Golden Section in much of his music, Hindemith made ‘3’ significant in Mathis der Maler, and Crumb made ‘7’ and ‘13’ significant in Black Angels. Is that too much to talk about? What about neo-Riemannian functions in the harmonic progressions of Brahms or Wagner? Even simple ideas like tuning and intervals rely upon mathematical principles.
Jean supports her claims of the failure of set theory by citing James Clerk Maxwell (who was actually responding to Helmholtz’s new acoustic theories rather than any set theories, as they didn’t exist yet), PET scans that suggest the connection between pitch perception and visual imagination, Leonard Meyer, L.S. Lloyd, and 4th graders. First a response to the pitch perception idea: cross-cultural studies have shown that notational formats determine physical analogies for pitch and rhythm. Because the Western system of notation places high frequency pitches higher on a staff, we associate pitches in a vertical framework. Studies with people who do not know or use Western notation use different descriptions of pitch. It is not a hard-wired universal, nor are Meyer’s claims of timbre descriptions. In Chinese instrumental playing timbres are described by the gestures that produce them. Studies by Kendall and Carterette have shown discrepancies between German and American concepts of timbre, that “sharp” is not as relevant as “nasal” is to American ears. For every cognitive fact that Jean can find that could support the “unnatural” aspects of set-theoretic music, I could find one that shows the perceptual salience of inversions and retrogrades. It really comes down to aesthetics, which is a much more personal issue.
I am a bit uncertain whether Jean is complaining about theorists analyzing music with mathematical tools, or composers creating works using mathematical processes. The first mention is of analysis, one of her alternatives for talking about music. But then she critiques music composed by Babbitt, so it seems that she has it in for both sides. First a defense of theorists: as another reader, Adam Baratz, points out to Kyle, it is better to engage music by what’s inside the piece, rather than from a purely ideological stance. I disagree about the cheesiness of Philomel, as I think it is a devastating piece, full of the emotion and violence of rape. But it is worthwhile to examine the inner workings of a piece of music with all the tools at hand. This helps in aesthetic arguments, in performance decisions, and in finding common ground for any discussions about music.
As for set-theoretic music, by which I think Jean really means serial music, integrated serial music specifically, Sturgeon’s Law applies to that group of pieces as much as any other. 90% of total serial music is utter crap, including some by Babbitt, Boulez, and Stockhausen. Perhaps even more than 90% in this case, though I think it just seems that way because we are still too close to that period. But some serial pieces do acheive a transcendent beauty. I would place Messiaen’s Modes des valeurs et d’intensités in that category. Jean is right that music needs an emotional underpinning, a connection with the human listeners. But that connection is not dependent upon a specific process of composition, or a single musical language.
For what it’s worth, I do agree with Kyle about the benefits of genre labels, as a shorthand for communicating features that many pieces share. It also helps to establish the aesthetic expectations an audience will need to appreciate a given work.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Art and Politics
Now that that's out of my system, I want to discuss the inclusion of politics in my music-oriented blog. Caspar tries to stay away from politics in his blog. Jesse and Steve talk about whether musicians have the right to give their political opinions. This morning on Morning Edition Meryl Streep was asked if it is okay for her to be both starring in a political thriller and to make statements about politics (about 2:30 into the show). She made the great answer that it is okay for any citizen to make statements, as long as they are well-read and informed about the subject. I will only comment on political things when I feel I understand the issues well enough. I will also only make political posts if I have something to say that no one else has said. Sometimes it will be from an artist's perspective, sometimes a scholar's perspective, and sometimes just something I thought up and didn't see posted anywhere else. Take it as you will.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
So that's what a generational gap feels like!
The thing is, I'm only about twelve years older than these students. At least I know who Norah Jones is. What will it feel like when I'm 50? My daughter will be in college then, so I guess I will have to make connections with that generation through her. "John Tavener wrote music using poetry by Bob Dylan. He's Jakob Dylan's dad."
Three's company, fifteen's a crowd
Being clever, but not for the sake of being clever, all of Bach's imitation and fancy counterpoint has purpose. The voice crossings, close ranges, and similar lines may have been the qualities that the early Baroque composers hoped to discourage. And this is not the clarity of voices that is generally associated with Bach. Much of the detail seems to have been written more for the performer than the listener. Nevertheless, it is a complex sound that achieves large scale events. And these events are well controlled because of Bach's clever technique.
David Huron has presented research on the perceptual salience of Bach's counterpoint, though he restricts himself to Bach's pedagogical/exploratory works -- The Well-Tempered Clavier, The Art of the Fugue, and The Musical Offering -- and some of his organ works. Watras points out that Bach's writing for choir and orchestra is perceptually messier, though the technique is still controlled. This is probably due to the larger musical forces that Bach is dealing with, as well as the concerns of text painting.
So Ligeti is not necessarily revolutionary in his approach to polyphony, though he is much more deliberate in his blurring of voices. Maybe instead of his Lux Aeterna and Atmospheres, Kubrick could have used Bach's B minor Mass in 2001 ... maybe not.
Sunday, August 08, 2004
Pardon me, Aristotle, but do you have an eon to chat?
The Dante's Inferno Test has sent you to the First Level of Hell - Limbo!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
|Purgatory (Repenting Believers)||Very Low|
|Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)||Very High|
|Level 2 (Lustful)||High|
|Level 3 (Gluttonous)||Very Low|
|Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)||Very Low|
|Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)||Low|
|Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)||Very High|
|Level 7 (Violent)||Moderate|
|Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)||Moderate|
|Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)||Very Low|
Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test
(I found this at Sounds and Fury, blame him.)
Saturday, August 07, 2004
Something about Psycho music?
I arrived Thursday at 11:30, in time to register and see three papers before chairing my own session. I really enjoyed Ana Volk’s talk on finding inherent periodicities in syncopated music, though I think there are problems with her weighting of different levels of periodicity, as those at higher levels can be weighted less, even if they have strong perceptual salience due to heirarchic support from lower levels. My chaired session went well, not heavily attended but with enthusiastic questions. The presenter was somewhat nervous during her talk, but she explained herself clearly, and handled questions very well afterward. She didn’t go long, so I didn’t have to be a time bully. The paper was on the affect of performers’ attractiveness on judgements of musical quality. Children ranging from grades 2 to 8 rated the quality of student cellists performances. Females that were also judged as attractive were scored higher than those that were not as physically attractive, when adjusted for other factors. This is related to a study I saw about the affect of dress upon teaching evaluations by students.
The Thursday afternoon session was short (naturally), so attendees could spend the evening and night enjoying Chicago. Unfortunately, not many musical events were scheduled for Thursday night, but it was a good thought. I went out to dinner in Evanston with my family and mother-in-law (she came down to visit and help my wife with the kids while I was at the conference), and then drove around campus, stopping to gaze upon Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. This is where my wife would like to go for her priestly training. We had planned to walk around campus, but gale-force winds kept us in the mini-van.
Friday I was late for the morning sessions, due to the chaotic nature of getting 2- and 4-year-olds ready to go out for breakfast. I saw one truly gawdawful paper by a Ph.D. student at Boston University, who did his research supported by Massachussetts General Hospital (Steve, have Orhun check this guy out, I’ll email you the name). The research topic was fine, but he had not done any adequate literature searches, so he missed the last twenty-five years of relevant articles that already covered everything he tried to do. He also made the very bad assumption that the psychologist-majority in the audience was ignorant about statistical methods, including ANOVAs: “it’s sort of like a t-test.” So this raised the hackles of everyone, who slammed him afterwards with the lack of literature and the fact that he misused the very ANOVA that he was so smug about. He had two factors to his design, yet he chose a one-way ANOVA for some reason, ignoring any possibility of interaction between these two factors even though that was supposed to be the purpose of the study. Oops.
Friday afternoon was spent at a great session on timbre, where I got to chat with Roger Kendall afterwards. He is very big in the field, plus he chaired the session I presented in today, so it was good to be on his good side. Somehow I managed to impress him with my knowledge of the literature, so maybe writing a timbre book isn’t such a farfetched idea. Friday evening consisted of swimming with the kids, and another family dinner. The rest of that day was spent agonizing over the realization that I had forgotten the power cord to my laptop. So? you may ask. Said laptop, with a battery charge of 1 minute, has my PowerPoint presentation on it (I like PowerPoint, so sue me.) If it was just visuals, it wouldn’t be a big deal, I could draw on the chalkboard. But I had sound files imbedded in the presentation, which were planned to take up about 8 minutes of my presentation. If I didn’t have those, much of the point of the presentation would be lost and I would have a very short paper.
Fortunately Macs rule supreme in the music world, even among engineers and psychologists. The next morning I was able to borrow a cord, recharge my battery, and give the presentation without a hitch (except for Microsoft’s insistance on quitting whenever I hook up the computer to a projector.) The session was very enjoyable, with two other great papers and good questions all around. Afterwards I got offers of help in data crunching and acoustical analysis from David Wessel and Jim Beauchamp, who were among the trumpet playing fans in the audience. I will definitely take them up on those offers.
We are now home, all rather stressed from broken eating and sleeping schedules. Crashing for nine hours will soon commence.
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
My kind of town, Chicago is.
In the meantime, my bro has his second post up: a comparison of how the two candidates differ in the treatment of small businesses, and why it is important for all Americans. I had no idea how the tax system works for businesses, but then, Bush clearly doesn't either.
Sunday, August 01, 2004
Nepotism is only relative
Is classical music well-bred?
Beethoven may have used a safe subject in his one opera, but his symphonies abound with the realistic humanism of 19th century thought. The unsettling opening and closing of the Seventh Symphony's second movement, or the uncertain form of the third movement (related to the deliberate confusions of perception in the ha-ha garden by one musicologist), expresses the uncertainty of life as ably as Dickens' novels. The second movement doesn't have a happy ending, it in fact ends exactly the same as it starts, despite the efforts of the C major section or the beautiful countermelody in the cellos. The third movement does finish on a happy note, but we aren't sure where we were, given the extensions of each section in the introductions to the next section and the lack of pattern to the repetitions.
In the critics' debate I mentioned below, Sandow also laments a lack of connect between classical music and the Beat generation of the 50s or the revolutions of the 60s. Again I would say that he is looking in the wrong spots, or dismissing connections too easily (Crumb and Stockhausen in the 60s). I would point to Penderecki and Ligeti, Cage and Partch as the equivalents in the that period, though their revolutions did not depend upon referents to the literature of that time (though Stockhausen did use his own erotic poetry that was inspired by Howl), just as the authors and artists of the 50s and 60s did not need to refer to contemporary classical composers. And Sandow ignores the performance artists who stride both worlds, in Nam June Paik and the other Fluxus contributors.
I say that classical music has not been too well-bred, as long as one looks at the right genomes.