Saturday, July 31, 2004

A rose by any other name...

Yesterday's class was on Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima and Ligeti's Atmosphères and Lux Aeterna. Tim Rutherford-Johnson has a vivid description of Threnody as part of his Music Since 1960 series, which I encourage you to read. Instead of going through all of the details that Tim has already covered, I will discuss a few things that Tim didn't include in his review.

Something that is not discussed in all the literature about Threnody is the influence of John Cage. He published 4'33" in 1950, creating quite a stir with his concept of ambient noise as music. But Cage's piece is also about parsing a musical work by specific chronometric time, with no organizing principles of beat or meter. Penderecki's original title of 8'37" is a clear reference to Cage's work, as is his notation of durations in seconds rather than beats. Granted, Penderecki could have also been inspired by Stockhausen's 1956 article in Die Reihe #3 called " time passes...", but we see other referents to Cage's piece. At precisely four minutes and thirty-three seconds the instruments reach a climax, which from previous experience should have led to a very brief pause and the start of a new section. Instead, this climax is interrupted by a new swelling in the lower strings, leading to a tapered finish and much longer pause at 5'30". That this climax occurs at the duration of Cage's piece is enough to make one say, "hah" but the treatment of this climax is also influenced by Cage's ambient music. Cage was providing a framework for sounds that we have no control over, but which are constantly part of us. Penderecki maintains a composer's control over the sounds, but he takes away the listener's control of the sound by denying expectations about the climax. The way he disrupts the climax, with a new and somewhat unrelated sound, also evokes the idea of discontinuous ambient noises.

The main division point in Threnody, the five second pause at 5'30", provides a silence unlike the silence in Cage's 4'33". Yes, we can still hear our hearts beating, but this unexpected pause after over five minutes of continuous noise is highly dramatic and very unsettling.

This leads me to the idea of form. Tim suggests that Threnody could be perceived as variations upon a tone cluster. Penderecki creates dense blocks of sound through the use of quarter-tones, so these tone clusters are harsher than Cowell's. It is an interesting concept, but I'm not sure how the pointillistic section from 5'33" to 7' fits as a variation, as no tone clusters are created. Instead, I offer Mary Wennerstrom's concepts of three different possible forms, dependent upon the criteria used. (Mary actually suggests four forms, but I don't understand her application of the ternary form so I'm skipping that one.) The 5 seconds of silence mentioned above divides the work into a two-part binary form, with suggestions of a rounded binary as the tone clusters from the beginning come back at the end. If we focus on texture, the piece divides into four parts, A B C A. The A sections are the continuous blocks of unspecified pitches, the B section is the shaped blocks of sound from about 2' to 5'30", and the C section is the scattering of disconnecting pitches and percussive noises (fingers tapping on the bodies of the instruments). And if we look at timbre and duration, a quasi-rondo form appears: A B A' B' A. The A sections are the continuous blocks of sound, including the shaped blocks as A'. The B sections are percussive effects, starting with a gradual shift from A to B at around 1'30"(I don't have the score with me, so I'm going by memory). Within any of these formal sections we can hear phrases created by shifts in dynamics, timbre and pitch. Thus Threnody rewards repeated listenings with many possible ways of parsing the sounds.

Tim talks about the change of title to the much more evocative title that ensured the popularity of this work. Yesterday a student asked whether Penderecki purposely chose a subject that audiences would be sympathetic about, to counter the resistance they would have to the harsh discordances of the actual music. Was it salesmanship, or a genuine belief that his piece did express a tribute to the victims? I don't know the answer to that, and I'm not sure whether it makes a difference.

This post is long enough, and breakfast is ready, so I'll write about Ligeti later.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

"No statue has ever been erected in honor of a critic."

Over at Arts Journal, a debate is being conducted by 12 classical music critics about the future of music. The formal question is:
If the history of music is the recorded conversation of ideas, then where do we find ourselves in that conversation at the start of the 21st Century? In the past, musical ideas have been fought over, affirmed then challenged again, with each generation adding something new. Ultimately consensus was achieved around an idea, and that idea gained traction with a critical mass of composers.

Now we are in a period when no particular musical idea seems to represent our age, and it appears that for the moment – at least on the surface – that there is no obvious direction music is going. So the question is: what is the next chapter in the historical conversation of musical ideas, and where are the seeds of those ideas planted?

Or: Is it possible that, with traditional cultural structures fragmenting, and the ways people are getting and using culture fundamentally changing, that it is no longer possible for a unifying style to emerge? Is it still possible for a Big Idea to attain the kind of traction needed to energize and acquire a critical mass of composers and performers?

Some of the names are familiar to those who peruse my blogroll: Alex Ross, Kyle Gann, and Greg Sandow. It also involves critics from the New York Times, Newsday, The Houston Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and other newspapers across the country (always big cities, though). Unlike most Arts Journal blogs, this one allows reader comments, which have been as interesting as the critics' posts. I agree with Andrew Druckenbrod that we cannot determine the big idea that will unify music in the coming generation. Composers will decide who to emulate or be influenced by, and society (in the guise of both audiences and the academy) will determine which composers represent our generation, defining the big idea (musical language, really). But I've also blogged about my vision of the future as well, just another smart-ass speculation.

I encourage you to read the posts, and take part in the conversation.

The scholar part wasn't that important anyway.

ESPN will be televising college football almost every single day from October 22 to November 27. Schools that weren't getting air time on Saturdays are now playing on Tuesdays and Thursdays so ESPN will broadcast them. That should be good for the study habits of those football players. It's not like many classes meet on Wednesdays or Fridays. On November 2, Toledo will be playing at Miami of Ohio. Good thing there is nothing else important to do that day.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Patent on tone clusters?

Henry Cowell is famous for his use of tone clusters. He did not use them as secundal chords, creating atonal harmonies in the manner of Webern or Varèse. Instead, Cowell used these tightly packed densities to evoke aural images of the sea, ghosts, or inhuman instruments. In "The Tides of Manaunaun," an Irish folk tune is harmonized with typical chords, while tone clusters crash against the shore in the deep background. In "The Banshee" and "Aeolian Harp" Cowell has the pianist strum or scrape strings inside the piano. While the strings are played in tone clusters, the effects are quite different in the two pieces. In "The Banshee" the tone clusters meld into a creepy wail, as if the piano is being tortured (in the words of one of my students.) No specific pitches are heard, beyond a recurring D-Db-B motive that is plucked out separately. In "Aeolian Harp" the tone clusters resolve to standard harmonies, as the pianist holds down specific keys so only those notes continue to ring after each strum. Cowell invented devices to help play clusters on the piano, and devised notations to communicate how these clusters should be performed.

He became so associated with tone clusters that Bela Bartòk wrote to ask his permission in using tone clusters for a string quartet. Why was this necessary? No one wrote Schoenberg asking his permission to write serial music, or checked with Messiaen before using one of his modes. Perhaps it was a simple courtesy, from one ethnomusicologist/composer to another, but it is certainly an odd story. Plenty of instruments have been patented, but I am not aware of any compositional techniques that have been protected, beyond the refusal of the composer to explain the workings of his/her music. By the way, I just ran across this story about troubles in Cowell's life that I was previously unaware of.
Then in 1936, when he was 39, his life fell apart. Cowell was arrested andcharged with performing oral sodomy on a 17-year-old male. Sweet-tempered and naively honest, Cowell had allowed neighborhood boys to swim in the pond behind his home. Apparently things happened. In his defense, Cowell stated that the boys, the youngest of whom was 16, had been the instigators, and that in no instance did anyone do anything through coercion. The Hearst tabloids seized on the story. Saying he did not want to submit the youths to a trial, Cowell pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison at San Quentin.

He was shaken but not bitter. In prison, he taught music to some 1,500 inmates, organized an orchestra, composed 50 pieces and wrote a book on melody. Released on parole in 1940, Cowell, with the support of his colleague Percy Grainger, established himself as a composer, teacher and organizer of modern-music events in New York. In 1942, he was granted a full pardon.

But he never shed the humiliation. Some colleagues cut off ties completely. Charles Ives, who had been like a father to him, agreed to see him again only after Cowell had married in 1941.

Fortunately, Cowell did recover from the scandal. The article I quoted suggests that his compositional style changed after this point, contrary to the trends that the author felt were the norm. However, Copland and Harris had just started the populist movement, and it is understandable that fellow American Cowell would come on board.

Monday, July 26, 2004

"Another complicated Carter piece."

That is how Aaron Copland referred to Elliott Carter's Holiday Overture, Carter's attempt to compose in the new populist style that Copland and Roy Harris had developed. Carter soon gave up this style, developing his multiple-layer forms of music as influenced by Charles Ives and Nadia Boulanger.

Reader Stephen Hicken asks what Carter pieces I will be teaching today, and what I will say. This is as good a time as any to organize my lecture notes, online. I will be covering two works by Carter, his Eight Etudes and a Fantasy (1950) for woodwind quartet (the typical quintet minus the horn), and the Eight Pieces for Timpani (1968). Both of these works illustrate Carter's development of metric modulation (Carter preferred the term 'tempo modulation'), as well as other techniques of rhythm, timbre, and pitch organization.

The Eight Etudes and a Fantasy came out of lectures Carter was giving on orchestration at Columbia University. He was disappointed with the efforts of the students, so he sketched small examples of woodwind pieces on the blackboard to illustrate different potentials of the woodwind ensemble. He explored and discovered as much as his students had, the small sketches developing into the Etudes. The final Fantasy utilizes techniques and motives from previous etudes in a quasi-fugue. Etude 7 is a great application of Schoenberg's concept of Klangfarbenmelodie. All four instruments play the same G, with all emphasis on color and dynamics. Despite the lack of pitch variation, Carter manages to create a three-part form through the variation of articulation and dynamics. He uses similar techniques in a more typical Schoenbergian sense in Etudes 3 and 6, by using a single chord in Etude 3 and different sustained chords in Etude 6.

The Fantasy starts out like a fugue, with 3 entrances of the subject that is derived from Etudes 6, 8, and 1. Using these three different motives gives a tripartite structure to the subject that Carter will develop in the fantasy. The movement starts in the tempo of the first etude (quarter = 84), modulating to the tempi of Etude 7 (quarter = 126), Etude 2 (MM 72), Etude 6 (MM 90) and Etude 4 (MM 84 in 3/4 meter). The subject is heard at the three main tempi (84, 126, and 90) and at measure 108 the subject is played at two different tempi at the same time (quarter note as the main beat for the oboe, doubly-dotted quarter note as the main beat for the flute).

So how does a tempo modulate? Metric modulation is related to pivot chord modulation in that changes are made smoothly, with little or no obvious shifts. Typically Carter will first change the meter, keeping the same beat or group of beats constant. As an example, in measure 17 of the Fantasy the meter changes from 4/4 to 6/4, with the dotted half note of the new meter held at the same rate as the half note of the previous meter. This is made very smooth by the fact that the previous two measures had quarter-note triplets, which will equal the quarter notes of the 6/4 meter. Then Carter changes the meter again, but the subdivision is kept the same in this case: one measure later, the meter changes back to 4/4, but this time the quarter note is kept constant, so the main subdivision of the 6/4 meter equals the beat of the new meter. This effectively switches the MM 84 tempo of the first 4/4 to MM 126 in the second 4/4.

In "Canaries" from the Eight Pieces for Timpani, Carter doubles the tempo through a series of modulations within the first 20 measures. He also uses a technique from the Fantasy to create multiple layers of speed occuring at the same time, though in "Canaries" one of the layers is constant and the other is accelerating! (As an aside, "Canaries" has nothing to do with the birds. The title comes from the "wildmen of the Canary Islands," and a Renaissance dance that was imported from their culture.) Canaries uses a very typical pitch organization for Carter: the timpani are tuned to E2, B2, C#3, and F3; this collection of pitches belongs to set-class (0146), one of the two all-interval tetrachords that Carter loved to use. Note that the specific pitches chosen allow some typical I - V motions, though this piece is not tonal.

That's all I have time for, as my TA is also lecturing on Messiaen today. Next, the timbral organizations of Cowell, Varèse, Ligeti, Penderecki, and Crumb. (Maybe) If you want to know more about Carter, I highly recommend David Schiff's The Music of Elliott Carter.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

And I'm not even from Hudson Valley

Reading Kyle Gann's post about Shostakovich put me in the mood to listen to some funky Russian neoclassic licks, but not my typical Piano Concerto #1 or Symphonies 5 or 8. So I got out a disc of Symphonies 9 and 15 performed by the RPO with Ashkenazy that Mary contributed to our collection. I know Symphony 9 pretty well, from working on the trumpet excerpts. But I didn't know #15 at all. The quotes, especially the William Tell snippets, stand out as unusual for Dmitri, but they really work well. The first few times the "Hi Ho, Silver" quote came in, I got a dreadful feeling that Shostakovich would be undone by popular culture's assimilation of that motive, much like Puccini's quotes of the Star-Spangled Banner in Madame Butterfly. But each time the motive was swept away in chromatic lines that integrated the quote seamlessly with Shostakovich's own language.

The second movement has a wonderfully angry section, full of piss and vinegar. It reminded me of a story that Charlie Geyer, trumpet professor at Northwestern, tells. Charlie is a big proponent of audience outreach, to the point of bringing neophytes to concerts himself and talking with the people afterward. Neighbors, relatives, colleagues from other disciplines, no one is safe from Charlie's musical evangelism. One time Charlie brought a neighbor to a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert. This neighbor had never seen an orchestra before, and was very taken by the whole experience. But the first question that he asked Charlie after the concert was, "Why was the trumpet player so angry?" He wasn't referring to any faces made about fracked notes, or any physical gestures the principal trumpeter (Bud Herseth) made. It was all about the sound of the trumpet, powerful and bold, leading the rest of the orchestra. Hearing this story made me listen to timbres very differently.

I'm very taken by this symphony, enough that I'll have to listen to it again on the drive home from Bloomington. But now, I must do some analyses of Elliott Carter for Monday's class (camping trip for the next three days). Hi ho, Metric Modulation.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Back Home Again in ... (where are we?)

I wonder what Mitch Daniels has to say about this? (via Pandagon)

Real Life Professors

When I read David Brooks' op-ed in the New York Times yesterday, I knew I wanted to blog about it. But then I got distracted by teaching, revising the blogroll, and hearing that yesterday was the anniversary of the moonwalk. So it took reading Ezra Klein's take on it to remind me that I had strong opinions, dammit! (Apologies for the vice-presidential language.)

My main beef is with the same point that Ezra comments about, that the only good teachers are those with "practical knowledge" gained from "the real world." I know that academic life is different from other professions, but I challenge the concept that knowledge gained from academic research is not practical, and that the skills and thoughts gained in the academic environment are not the equal of lessons learned from the school of hard knocks. Ezra, as a political science student, feels that good professors should have experience outside the academy, presumably within political organizations or policy-making bodies. I don't know enough about that particular discipline to naysay him, but it seems from my knowledge of other disciplines that there is room in a political science department for both theorists and practitioners. Some of my chemistry professors had industrial experience, others were born and buried in their academic regalia.

In my field of music, we have the practitioners (composers, performers, conductors, etc.) and the theorists (theorists (duh), musicologists, ethnomusicologists), each with their important place in the education of the modern musician. There is blurring of the lines, that makes each of our specialties stronger. But if we did not spend the bulk of our lives pursuing our specialties, we would not push the envelope of knowledge, giving our students the opportunity to learn more than we ever could. Down the path of David Brooks lies stagnation.

Frankly, Brooks' example of a truly educated student does not pass muster in my estimation.

She found what she calls the underbelly of his life, for as astute as Hill was at observing world events, there were gaping holes in his first marriage that he didn't even notice. She found herself reaching conclusions independently. In one interview, Hill said that he is a Burkean conservative. Worthen writes: "I wanted to scream at him, Don't you realize that I figured that out long ago?! Can't I have just a bit of credit?"

Worthen complains that Hill doesn't give her enough credit, and this shows that he taught her well? Perhaps Worthen's biography really does have some interesting insights about Hill, but Brooks does not show it at all.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Celebrating 35 years since the death of the moon

Thirty-five years ago today, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. Most people were quite excited by the pioneering nature and obvious technological accomplishments of this feat, though I'm not sure such vice-presidential language was warranted. George Crumb, composer extraordinaire, had mixed feelings about the Apollo 11 mission, which he expressed in his work, Night of the Four Moons. He composed this work during the Apollo mission of July 16-24, 1969, using texts by his favorite poet, Federico Garcia Lorca. This is what Crumb had to say about his work:
I suppose that Night of the Four Moons is really an "occasional" work, since its inception was an artistic response to an external event. The texts -- extracts drawn from the poems of Federico García Lorca -- symbolize my own rather ambivalent feelings vis-à-vis Apollo 11. The texts of the third and fourth songs seemed strikingly prophetic!

The first three songs, with their brief texts, are, in a sense, merely introductory to the dramatically sustained final song. The moon is dead, dead ... is primarily an instrumental piece in a primitive rhythmical style, with the Spanish words stated almost parenthetically by the singer. The conclusion of the text is whispered by the flutist over the mouthpiece of his instrument. When the moon rises ... (marked in the score: "languidly, with a sense of loneliness") contains delicate passages for the prayer stones and the banjo (played "in bottleneck style", i.e., with a glass rod). The vocal phrases are quoted literally from my earlier (1963) Night Music I (which contains a complete setting of this poem). Another obscure Adam dreams ... ("hesitantly, with a sense of mystery") is a fabric of fragile instrumental timbre, with the text set like an incantation.

The concluding poem (inspired by an ancient Gypsy legend) -- Run away moon, moon, moon! ... -- provides the climactic moment of the cycle. The opening stanza of the poem requires the singer to differentiate between the "shrill, metallic" voice of the Child and the "coquettish, sensual" voice of the Moon. At a point marked by a sustained cello harmonic and the clattering of Kabuki blocks (Drumming the plain, / the horseman was coming near ...), the performers (excepting the cellist) slowly walk off stage while singing or playing their "farewell" phrases. As they exit, they strike an antique cymbal, which reverberates in unison with the cello harmonic. The epiloque of the song (Through the sky goes the moon / holding a child by the hand) was conceived as a simultaneity of two musics: "Musica Mundana" ("Music of the Spheres"), played by the onstage cellist; and "Musica Humana" ("Music of Mankind"), performed offstage by singer, alto flute, banjo, and vibraphone. The offstage music ("Berceuse, in stile Mahleriano") is to emerge and fade like a distant radio signal. The F-sharp major tonality of the "Musica Humana" and the theatrical gesture of the preceding processionals recall the concluding pages of Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony.

I heard this work during a festival for Crumb's 75th birthday at DePauw last spring, sitting right behind the composer. It is a very effective and dramatic work, though I like Ancient Voices of Children and An Idyll for the Misbegotten better. But I find it very appropriate to listen to Night of the Four Moons to mark this anniversary. Here are a <list of recordings, in case you wish to do the same.

Updated blogroll

I've cleaned up the blogroll on the left, adding some blogs I've been reading regularly, like Byzantium's Shores and Making Light, and getting rid of some deadweight. I also organized the blogs into a few categories, though I am still resisting any alphabetical framework. Perhaps in biographical order...

Monday, July 19, 2004

Quixotic Karlheinz

Tim Johnson, in his continuing review of music from 1960 to 2000, has the most funny and yet incredibly accurate description of Karlheinz Stockhausen that I have ever read. Here is a brief quote:
This Stockhausen no longer tilts at windmills, he drives crash test vehicles into them.

I saw Stockhausen live at an International Trumpet Guild conference in Rotterdam in 1992. His son, Markus, is an excellent trumpeter; unfortunately he has focused most of his artistic efforts to his father's compositions, including the wacky aria from Stockhausen's Licht opera cycle. Markus was Jesus, a soprano soloist was Maria, the two accompanied by taped electronic spurts and geegaws. The elder Stockhausen spoke before the performance, making sure we all knew that the performers were not to look at each other while they played and moved about in dramatic fashion (including a recreation of the Piéta, quite remarkable to recline while playing the flugelhorn and not looking at the person you are reclining against).

I later gained a greater appreciation for what a marvelously crazy man Karlheinz was when reading his articles from the 50's and 60's for a history of music theory course, and studying some of his compositions in analysis courses. Tim does point out a big problem with many integral serial compositions: all they express is the process, rather than using the process to get at something new. Stockhausen at least tries to do this in later works, especially when using moment form as an attempt to portray eternity. Windmills, indeed.

The other Copland

Many people express their admiration for Aaron Copland's music, even if they don't know that he wrote it (i.e. "the Beef music.") They'll talk about how Appalachian Spring or Billy the Kid epitomizes the wide open spaces of America, or just that it has catchy tunes and pleasant harmonies. But most audiences are not aware of the other Copland: the experimental, atonal, serial, and dense Copland as mostly found in his smaller pieces. His song collection on poems by Emily Dickinson is quite different from his American folk song collection. And his piano sonata and variations for piano are both lively and abstract. To those that think they know Aaron Copland, I challenge you to listen to the other Copland.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

You've been appointed chair. Collect $50

I was just asked to chair a session of the International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition. This sounds damned impressive, until you realize that this international conference is being held in Evanston, Illinois, and that the session I am chairing has a grand total of one paper, lasting twenty minutes. So my duties are to introduce the authors of this paper, make sure they take only twenty minutes to present their findings, and to both encourage questions and limit them to five minutes. But it will look good in my interim review file, and it is a good starting point for my chairing career. I'm also presenting a paper at this conference, so I get double bang for my university's buck.

I also just finished chairing a search committee, which again sounds impressive when omitting the detail that this search was for a part-time position. But we still had to read through many applications (the Bush economy affects academics, too), and go through the whole interview rigamarole. I am happy with the results, though I hope we can convert this part-time music theory position to another tenure-track job in either theory or theory/composition. But that won't happen until I can build a hotel on Jordan Avenue.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Only the good die young

Now I'm depressed. I just found out via Byzantium's shores that Scott Parkinson died. Scott was the principal trombonist with the Buffalo Philharmonic, and a former student of mine.

I first met Scott when I enrolled at Eastman in 1995. We played in the same jazz ensemble, and had fun making music and goofing off (once doing both when our whole jazz band set up outside the house of the director of jazz studies and blasted Malaguena at midnight). The next year, Scott was in one of my sections of Third-Year Aural Skills. That same year he really started to blossom as a player (no thanks to me, though he was also a very conscientous theory student). That same year he played the solos in Mahler's Third Symphony just beautifully, wowing everyone. I wasn't surprised to hear that he had won the Buffalo job.

A heart attack, Jaquandar heard on the radio. The death notice in the paper doesn't specify. My condolences to Scott's wife and family.

It depends on who sang it

In comments on Chad's post that I mentioned below, commenters started, um, commenting on the difference in reception of Aretha Franklin's "Respect" from Otis Redding's original, or the horrible thought of Eddie Vedder singing "Hit me baby, one more time." This brings to mind an article in the latest issue of Music Theory Online. Lori Burns and Alyssa Woods write about Eminem's "97 Bonnie and Clyde" in his version and as covered by Tori Amos (and Amos' cover of "Strange Fruit" compared to Billie Holliday's version). I saw this paper at the 2003 SMT conference, but wasn't impressed with Amos' covers. In the Eminem piece, which is about a guy who murders his wife while his young daughter watches, the authors claim (based on Amos' statements) that Amos takes on the voice of the murdered woman. The words are not changed at all, so Amos is still narrating from the man's perspective. The only change is that Amos speaks the words with a hushed voice (heavily amplified), with a slight ambient noise suggestion of being enclosed. While I'm a big fan of performances that focus on timbre and subtle changes in sound color, I just don't hear it as meaningful or artistic in Amos' case. Perhaps someone with more familiarity with her work can educate me.

In any case, the article does lay out some interesting theories regarding how the status of different performers create different impressions of the same songs.

Music that doesn't suck

Recent discussions about elitism and the supposed great divide between pop and classical music spawned this post by Chad Orzel. He comments on the difficulty in judging music by a consistent criterion that will prove "the essential worthlessness of pop music" (tongue-in-cheek comment by Mike Kozlowski). In comments, I attempted to give a cogent response, though I'm not satisfied with the results:
There are two ways of categorizing music: by how they were regarded when they were originally written/performed, and how they are currently regarded. Minstrel songs from the 15th century were that generation's pop music, but now they are regarded as artsy. The divisions will change with the social groups asked (see my post about the Social Psychology of Music) and the labels used for the divisions. One could divide music by the intent of the composer: to make an artistic work, to make money, or to become famous. This will definitely be blurry, and difficult to easily discern. One could divide music by the venues it is performed in: stadium/arena, concert hall, night club, dance hall, etc. This gets more to how we regard the music, by where we as a society let it be played. How about the education of the composer, or the instrumentation (electric = lowbrow)?

My preference is to describe any piece on its own merits, comparing it to other pieces as appropriate if they share similarities in compositional technique, lyric subject, social function, etc. I've been finding that I enjoy more and more music with this approach.

What I really want to say is that any attempts to judge the aesthetic worth of a whole genre of music will fail, unless the music of that genre is so homogenous that shared characteristics are not of a trivial nature. What characteristics do all popular musics share, that "artistic" musics do not? Nothing comes to mind. So let's focus our attention on judging the worthlessness of individual pieces or musicians. Brittany Spears sucks!

Monday, July 12, 2004

Why I read Physics Today

As a member of the Acoustical Society of America, I receive Physics Today in both electronic and print formats. Every two months or so an article appears related to my field, and thus that I can actually understand. In today's issue, there is an article on how particle physics is being used to restore old recordings.

Carl Haber and Vitaliy Fadeyev of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory had developed a system for finding elementary particle tracks within noisy high energy data sets, solely using optics guided by pattern recognition algorithms and noise suppression. They have converted this method to read old records, wax cylinders, and metal Edison recordings, taking pictures of each segment of the recorded track and removing any distortions from warping or scratches. The pictures are then converted to audio signals. The benefit of this system (which currently takes 40 minutes to scan 1 second of music) is that it doesn't further degrade the original record, as a stylus or laser would.

Audio remastering had been previously advanced by the use of the Wavelet Transform as a pattern recognition tool, used by researchers at Yale to clean up a wax recording of Brahms playing his own piano music. It's about time physicists find something useful to do!

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Does crow come in soft-serve?

Last weekend my brother's girlfriend made a highly unbelievable statement: there is no frozen custard in New England. She swore on her mother's grave, and offered to have her mother call me to swear on her mother's grave. This came up during a visit to my family in Wisconsin, where the Boston couple happily sampled custards from Ella's Deli in Madison, Gille's Custard in Fond Du Lac, and Culver's in Appleton. Their excuse for what some may describe as gluttony is that they cannot get this cool and creamy treat in their home environs, that in fact the girlfriend (a native Yank) had never had frozen custard in her life.

While skepticism is a healthy thing when regarding our current administration, it generally does not lead to good family relations. But I've been gunning for this person, ever since she had the gall to diss Keith Jarrett. (I kid! Who could diss Keith Jarrett?) So I offer this evidence from her previous state of residence: Heritage Farm Creamery, in Sanbornton, NH. Note that the origin of frozen custard was in New York, just a hop away.

A fluke, you say? Then perhaps Kohr Brothers, original purveyors of frozen custard with locations in Massachusetts, will assuage your fears. I believe Boston is located somewhat near this state. And finally, Abbott's Custard, which milady (thanks Rambler) and I enjoyed countless times during our stay in western New York, started in New Hampshire in 1908.

Sometimes when something sounds unbelievable, there is a reason for it. In Denise's defense, Heritage Farm's website does suggest that frozen custard is not as popular in New England as it used to be (inexplicable, really), so I do believe that she has never had it. And now the happy couple will be even more happy, as they compare Kohr Bros. to Gille's.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

The Social Psychology of Music

I've been reading some books this summer in preparation for a class I will be offering for the first time next spring: The Psychology of Music. My dissertation is on psychoacoustics, and I have taken plenty of courses on the perception and cognition of music. But I have never taught it as a course, so I'm trying to be prepared. I especially want to bone up on the social and developmental psychologies of music, so I can give a more balanced presentation of the different areas of research in music psychology.

The Social Psychology of Music, edited by David Hargreaves and Adrian North, provides a good introduction to the field. The editors organize the chapters around a theory by Doise that divides up social psychology into four levels: the intraindividual level(how people comprehend their social environments), the interindividual and situational level (processes between members in given situations), the social-positional level (differences between different social groups), and the ideological level (cultural systems that can affect individual responses). From these levels the editors came up with six topic areas: individual differences, social groups and situations, social and cultural influences, developmental issues, musicianship, and applications. The first three follow Doise's categories exactly, with the third and fourth levels combined. The other three sections are more specific, focusing on specific social groups (adolescents or musicians) and looking at practical applications.

In the first section, Anthony Kemp examines "Individual differences in musical behaviour" and Susan O'Neill explores the influence of "Gender and music." Kemp has written a more detailed book, The Musical Temperament: Psychology and Personality of Musicians, which I plan to read later this summer. It is an interesting look at what personality traits are common among musicians, and why certain people are driven to create music. Kemp provides a handy review of personality theories, and explains clearly why he picks a specific theory to base his research on. I'll dive into this topic more when I review Kemp's book. O'Neill reviews research on gender and music, with a particular focus on why certain instruments are associated as masculine or feminine, after determining that the trumpet is indeed thought of as a man's instrument (no shock to my wife, especially after she played principal trumpet in a Mexican orchestra, surrounded by muy machismo), and the flute is feminine (tell James Galway that, I dare ya!). The research results are not surprising, though the resistance to change of social stereotypes is depressing. I found many of the interpretations and conclusions to be unsatisfying, either for being blindingly obvious or wishy-washy to the extreme. But O'Neill is not alone in this. I found most of the review articles to be reluctant to claim any significant conclusions. Is it a problem with the research mechanisms, or are they uncertain about the theoretical frameworks?

The second section looked at "Music and social influence" by Crozier (see my earlier comments about this article), and "Experimental aesthetics and everyday music listening" by the editors. Crozier describes the shocking research finding that musical preferences are influenced by the reactions of one's peers. More interesting is the second article, which describes an experiment by Vladimir Kone˘cni. The subjects were insulted by a supposed fellow subject (really a mole), highly arousing the subjects. The subjects were then asked to pick music to listen to. The short melodies were either complex or simple. The insulted subjects prefered simple music, fitting the inverted U relationship between Liking and Arousal that had been asserted earlier by Berlyne. Because the insulted subjects were already highly aroused, they wanted music that would not cause more stimulation, but rather would reduce their amount of arousal. Now that is an experiment: insulting your participants, and getting away with it! (Sorry, Evil Theory Doctor moment there.)

In Social and Cultural Influences, Dean Keith Simonton looks at compositional creativity, using the rather controversial method of historiometric analysis. I'll just say this: Simonton's definition of melodic originality is very naive, comparing the first six notes of melodies ranging from the Renaissance to the 20th century. A mean was created and all individual melodies and composers compared to this, but as these melodies span three different musical languages -- modal, tonal, and post-tonal, with the latter really as a whole slew of different languages -- and countless genres, the mean becomes meaningless. Less controversial is Andrew Gregory's summary of ethnomusicology, and Philip Rusell's review of differences in musical taste of different social groups. I do wonder about the inclusion of ethnomusicology in a psychology journal. Where is the division between social psychology and sociology?

Developmental Issues include studies on musical preferences of adolescents and the very interesting "Environmental factors in the development of musical performance skill over the life span" by Jane Davidson, Michael Howe, and John Sloboda. They measure over the life span by interviewing musicians and non-musicians at various stages, including people who have quit music or view it as a hobby rather than a vocation. There are many results and conclusions in this review, and one great anecdote that I have to share: "Evidently, among the Anang Ibibo [a Nigerian tribe] it is believed that everyone is capable of very high levels of musical expertise." (p. 188) An ethnomusicologist studying this tribe could not find a non-musical person, and the language had no concept for tone-deafness or other lack of skill. Because the society had the attitude that everyone could perform music and dance, everyone could. What are your attitudes?

Jane Davidson goes solo (in more than one way) with the next article, "The social in musical performance." She looks at interactions among musicians and between musicians and audiences, finishing with a story about her own performance as a soloist in Britten's War Requiem. It is an interesting article, though the research is very preliminary. The other article in the Musicianship section is on performance anxiety, and is very well done. Glenn Wilson starts with the symptoms and ends with the various "cures," as many discussions of performance anxiety do. But in the middle, he offers psychological theories for the cause of anxiety, including some clinical studies. The inverted U of arousal and liking comes back, suggesting that performers play best when they are somewhat aroused but not when they are too aroused. A very interesting study shows that successful performers peak in anxiety before the actual performance, whereas ruined performances usually are accompanied by peaks in anxiety during the performance.

Real World Applications looks at music therapy, advertising and Musak, and music education. The review of music therapy is good, though somewhat out of date, and the music education article overstates the benefit of educating music teachers about theories of social interaction.

I will definitely use portions of this book in my class, and recommend it to anyone interested in this area, as a good starting point. Next up, Musical Origins!

Friday, July 09, 2004

Herr Professor Doktor, if you please.

I know the title of Chad Orzel’s post is just a joking reference (as if there is any other kind) to Austin Powers and has nothing to do with the content of the post, but it brings up a topic that has been bothering me a while. I am proud of my doctorate, and it makes me feel good when I get called “Dr. Spiegelberg.” But I also feel pretentious (and possibly annoying) if I insist upon the formal honorific from students. And it isn’t just being called, “Scott.” A student worker at IU’s music library has been calling me “Mr. Spiegelberg,” which bugs me even more than being called by my first name. I did not attend Evil Graduate School for seven years to be called “Mister!” But I haven’t corrected this worker because it is horribly snooty (in my ears) to say, “Call me Dr. Spiegelberg, please.”

My brother (also a Ph.D.) feels that any college student should be free to call professors by their first names. On the other hand, my dean feels that all the students should refer to all the professors as Dr. or Professor. I agree with my brother in principle, but I also know that I twinge when some of my students call me “Scott.” I don’t think my concern is a respect issue, as two of the professors I respected most as an undergrad went by their first names. One insisted on being called “Fred,” as “Mr. Sturm” was “the guy who collects Social Security checks.” At this point in my life I’m not concerned about being regarded as old, though this will probably change within a few years, perhaps when I turn 40.

My issues about titles might be about power within the teacher-student relationship, much the same as between parent and child. The latter relationship is both more intense and more clear-cut (in my opinion) about the idea of friendship. I am not my children’s friend, I am their father. I play with them, but I also discipline them and teach them. I joke around with my students, but I also judge their classwork and do plenty of lecturing. I am prepared to learn things from my students, but much of the education and control is one-way.

In the past I have announced to each new group of students that they can call me “Scott,” “Dr. Spiegelberg,” or “Professor Spiegelberg.” Almost all choose Dr., with a few shortening it to “Dr. S.” I’m happy with that. A few rare ones (mostly sophomores or older, and mostly singers) call me “Scott,” causing the inner twitch. (One former student calls me “Theory Man.”) Should I still give the option, thus maintaining the fiction that I am not full of my degree, but disliking the few bad results? Or should I embrace my inner elitist and demand that all my students acknowledge me as their Evil Theory Doctor?

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Down to the River to Pray

I surprised my wife by announcing that I really liked this song from the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack. This was in response to her professed admiration for Alison Krauss' song. She was surprised because of the conflict between the religious text and my agnostic beliefs, since the lyrics were a large part of what she liked.

My admiration stems from several intriguing characteristics of the music itself. First is the asymmetric phrase structure. There is an ametric pause after each refrain, and each stanza includes one 5/4 measure among the regular 4/4 beats. This causes the conscious to listen closely, without necessarily knowing why it needs to pay attention. Some might regard the asymmetry as a type of primitivism, but I don't hear it that way. The 5/4 measure adds a level of sophistication, and the pause keeps you guessing as to when the next stanza begins, another attention-getter. The 5/4 measure also throws the poetry into confusion (see the lyrics at the bottom of the post). "And who shall wherewear" is added to the previous line with the extra beat, so the rest of that line is combined with the final line of the verse.

The second interesting characteristic is the lack of closure to the primary melodic line. Each stanza, including the last, finishes with Do - La - Sol. The Do does not sound final, coming on a weak beat and leading to the final Sol. It could be a modal finish, but the harmonies don't support that interpretation. This does create some sense of primitivism, at least to my Schenker-biased ears, though it also seems to fit the lyrics well. The river keeps rolling along without ending, just as the tonality of this song does.

The harmonies, beautifully realized by human voices alone, also deny closure and create a sense of both sophistication and "old-time" aesthetics. There are many 6/4 chords (triads with the fifth in the bass) in structurally important places, destabilizing the harmonic progression and therefore the sense of tonality. The bass line tends to follow the melody in similar motion, rather than create any sense of root motion from chord to chord. The avoidance of roots even as more and more harmonic strands are added is both frustrating and intriguing. In the end of the last stanza, all voices move to unison/octaves mostly (some embellishments), so all the voices end on Sol.

As I went down to the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown
Good Lord show me the way
Oh sisters let's go down
Let's go down come on down
Oh sisters let's go down
Down to the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown
Good Lord show me the way
Oh brothers let's go down

As I went down to the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown
Good Lord show me the way
Oh fathers let's go down

As I went down to the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown
Good Lord show me the way
Oh mothers let's go down

As I went down to the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown
Good Lord show me the way
Oh sinners let's go down

As I went down to the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown
Good Lord show me the way

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The VP Valse, final reprise

Finally, the speculation is over. Now we have to prepare for the Republican responses:

1) He's inexperienced.

A: He has the same amount of Fed. government experience as GWB had when he was elected president. Plus he is on the Senate Intelligence committee.

2) He is a trial lawyer.

A: He was a good lawyer, defending the people against wrongs committed by corporations. His cases were always described as "David v. Goliath" affairs. Thus the response allows us to talk about Edwards' experience as a genuine populist.

3) He is second-best, because he is Kerry's second choice. (McCain would have been better.)

A: At least Kerry made the choice, unlike Cheney's self-promotion. Alternate answer: Grownups often consider more than one choice, and sometimes find the second choice to be better than the first.
Another alternate answer: If Kerry considered McCain, this tells us two things: McCain must have signaled the possibility, showing he clearly doesn't like what GWB has done; and Kerry is much more dedicated to uniting the differing political opinions of our country than George "I'm a uniter, not a divider" Bush is. What has Bush done to unite the country?

4) He shows that Kerry is an unabashed liberal, since he didn't pick a more centrist candidate (note the contradiction to #3, as Kerry did try to pick a conservative candidate).

A: Yes, John Kerry is a liberal. This is what the country needs, someone with a vision to progress forward, rather than moving back to McKinley-era governments.
Alternate: What has GWB done to balance his ticket? His record is very reactionary, pushed even farther by Cheney.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Keeping It Simple

Bret Aarden and Paul von Hippel have written a much-needed article about teaching partwriting rules in undergraduate music theory. They have focused only on rules about chord doubling and chord spacing, but the results certainly suggest potential extrapolations.

Chord doubling -- deciding which note of a triad to double in two different voices, especially in four-voice settings -- can be described by two different sets of rules. The first set, which Aarden and von Hippel call triad member rules, tell the student which member of the triad (root, third, or fifth) to double as determined by the chord quality (major, minor, or diminished) and the inversion of the chord (which triad member is in the bass voice). Two examples: 1) root position major or minor triads should have the root doubled; 2) first inversion diminished triads should have the third doubled.

The other set of rules is called the scale degree rules. These rules do not care what quality or inversion of chord is used, looking only at the notes of the triad as notes in of the major or minor scale. Tendency tones, typically the leading tone, should not be doubled.

The authors develop a program that can look at chords and determine whether they have proper doubling and follow the spacing (put the largest interval between the lowest voices). This is tested by having the computer program compare two chords and determine which chord is from an authentic piece and which chord was randomly created. By changing the program to used different sets of rules, the authors discovered that both sets of rules had the same level of accuracy, interpreting this result to mean that the two sets were redundant. Because they feel both sets are not needed, they suggest going with the simpler set of rules, the scale-degree rules.

I applaud the results, as I feel most textbooks overload the rules for partwriting. The focus should be on creating smooth lines that avoid dependency between voices (e.g. parallel fifths and octaves), without codifying every possible instance of chord progression as a different rule. However, I find their label of scale degree rules to be misleading. The typical rule is about tendency tones, of which only two are specific scale degrees (the leading tone and the flattened second scale degree). The other main tendency tone is the chordal seventh, which changes scale degrees depending on the root of the chord. Thus I would call the set of rules tendency rules.

Now let's see them tackle voice crossing and voice overlap!

Friday, July 02, 2004

New MTO issue

The latest issue of Music Theory Online is available. It has articles on partwriting rules, gender and appropriation in Tori Amos and Eminem, the perceptual aspects of interval classes, and reviews of books about Michael Tippett and John Cage.

I'll review some of these articles later, after I finish some books and get back from visiting the in-law.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

You can't have a list without Liszt

Byzantium Shores is attempting to create a new meme. I have mixed feelings about the word "meme." When used correctly, it can convey an awesome picture of how ideas are created and transmitted. Used the way it is here and across the blogosphere, it is just a pretentious synonym for rumor, theme, or stupid-idea-that-I-hope-will-make-me-famous-throughout-the-internet.

His idea is another annoying list, the type where you indicate which items you have read/seen/heard, as a way of telling the world how cultured you are. But what the hell. His is about classical music, so I will play along. Below are 100+ classical/art music pieces that Jaquandar has culled from David Dubal's book The Essential Canon of Classical Music. If they are bolded, I have heard them. If they are not bolded, I am a culturally illiterate poseur who is clearly unqualified to be teaching music.

1. Handel, Messiah
2. Handel, Water Music
3. J.S. Bach, Brandenburg Concertos (any of them would count, I guess)
4. J.S. Bach, The Passion According to St. Matthew
5. J.S. Bach, Toccata and fugue in D-minor
6. Vivaldi, The Four Seasons (any would count)
7. Pergolesi, Stabat Mater
8. Haydn, Symphony No. 104 in D "London"
9. Haydn, The Creation
10. Mozart, Requiem
11. Mozart, Le Nozze di Figaro
12. Mozart, Die Zauberflote
13. Mozart, Symphony No. 40 in G-minor
14. Mozart, Sinfonia concertante for violin, viola and orchestra
15. Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in E-flat "Eroica"
16. Beethoven, Symphony No. 5 in C-minor
17. Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 in D-minor
18. Beethoven, Piano sonata No. 8 in C-minor "Pathetique"
19. Beethoven, Piano sonata No. 29 in B-flat "Hammerklavier"
20. Rossini, Overture to "Guillaume Tell"
21. Schubert, Symphony no. 9 in C-major "The Great"
22. Schubert, Quintet in A for Piano and Strings "Trout"
23. Weber, Der Freischutz
24. Donizetti, Norma
25. Berlioz, Symphonie fantastique
26. Berlioz, Harold in Italy
27. Berlioz, Romeo et Juliet
28. Berlioz, Grande messe des mortes
29. Berlioz, La Damnation de Faust
30. Mendelssohn, Concerto in E-minor for violin and orchestra
31. Mendelssohn, Symphony no. 4 in A "Italian"
32. Mendelssohn, Symphony no. 5 in D "Reformation"
33. Mendelssohn, Overture and incidental music to "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
34. Schumann, Concerto in A-minor for piano and orchestra
35. Schumann, Symphony No. 3 in E-flat "Rhenish"
36. Schumann, Symphony No. 4 in D-minor
37. Liszt, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
38. Liszt, Les Preludes for orchestra
39. Brahms, Symphony No. 1 in C-minor
40. Brahms, Symphony No. 2 in D
41. Brahms, Academic Festival Overture
42. Brahms, A German Requiem
43. Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen (part of it does NOT count!)
44. Wagner, Lohengrin
45. Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg
46. Verdi, La Traviata

47. Verdi, Rigoletto
48. Verdi, Aida
49. Offenbach, The Tales of Hoffman
50. Franck, Symphony in D-minor
51. Smetana, The Moldau (Symphonic poem No. 2 from "Ma Vlast")
52. Bruckner, Symphony No. 4 in E-flat "Romantic"

53. J. Strauss II, Tales of the Vienna Woods
54. J. Strauss II, On the Beautiful Blue Danube
55. Saint-Saens, Symphony No. 3 in C-minor "Organ"
56. Saint-Saens, The Carnival of the Animals
57. Bizet, Carmen
58. Mussorgsky, A Night on Bald Mountain
59. Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition
60. Tchaikovsky, Romeo And Juliet Festival Overture
61. Tchaikovsky, Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor for piano and orchestra
62. Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker (the entire ballet, not the suite)
63. Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 5 in E-minor
64. Sullivan, The Mikado

65. Sullivan, HMS Pinafore (I've heard parts, but not the whole thing)
66. Dvorak, Symphony No. 9 in E-minor "From the New World"
67. Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade
68. Faure, Requiem
69. Puccini, La Boheme
70. Puccini, Tosca
71. Puccini, Madama Butterfly
72. Mahler, Symphony No. 2 in C-minor "Resurrection"
73. Mahler, Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor
74. Debussy, Prelude on the Afternoon of a Faun
75. Debussy, La Mer
76. Strauss, Death and Transfiguration
77. Strauss, Also Sprach Zarathustra
78. Strauss, Don Quixote
79. Sibelius, Finlandia
80. Dukas, The Sorceror's Apprentice
81. Scriabin, Symphony No. 4 "La Poeme de l'extase"

82. Vaughan Williams, The Lark Ascending
83. Vaughan Williams, Symphony No. 2 "London"
84. Vaughan Williams, Symphony No. 5 in D-Major
85. Holst, The Planets
86. Rachmaninov, Concerto No. 2 in C-minor for piano and orchestra
87. Rachmaninov, Symphony No. 2 in E-minor
88. Rachmaninov, Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini
89. Schoenberg, Transfigured Night
90. Schoenberg, Five pieces for orchestra
91. Ravel, Daphnis et Chloe
92. Ravel, Concerto in D-Major for piano (left hand) and orchestra
93. Bartok, Concerto for Orchestra
94. Respighi, The Pines of Rome
95. Stravinsky, Petrouchka
96. Stravinsky, The Firebird
97. Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring
98. Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms
99. Berg, Wozzeck
100. Berg, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
101. Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet
102. Prokofiev, Symphony No. 5 in B-flat
103. Ives, The Unanswered Question
104. Milhaud, The Creation of the World
105. Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue
106. Gershwin, An American in Paris
107. Copland, A Lincoln Portrait
108. Copland, Appalachian Spring
109. Hanson, Symphony No. 2 "Romantic"
110. Korngold, Concerto in D-Major for violin and orchestra
111. Shostakovich, Symphony No. 5 in D-minor
112. Shostakovich, Symphony No. 8 in C-minor

113. Shostakovich, King Lear (film score)
114. Finzi, Concerto in C-minor for clarinet and strings
115. Messiaen, Quartet for the End of Time
116. Messiaen, Turangalila Symphony
117. Williams, Star Wars (film score)

118. Herrmann, Vertigo (film score)
119. Rozsa, Ben Hur (film score)
120. Goldsmith, The Wind and the Lion (film score)
121. Shore, The Lord of the Rings (film score) (all of it)

I'm not much on listening to film scores separately from the movie, just as I really prefer to watch operas rather than listen to them. I admit ignorance about Finzi, but will look into those works, and while I know much of Vaughan Williams' work, I was surprised to realize that I don't know his symphonies well at all.

If I'm suffering writer's block later, I'll repeat this list showing which pieces I've performed or taught.