Saturday, December 31, 2005

So long, suckas

Tomorrow morning (in far too early of a definition for morning), we are heading down to Florida to visit friends in West Palm Beach. I will be out of blogging range for the next four days. But that is okay, as I will be busy looking for that fountain of youth.

Small moose

Today I got another present, though this was a birthday present rather than a Christmas present. Over a month ago I used money from my Grandpa to order a cornetto from Jeremy West. It finally arrived, much to my excitement and my wife's dismay. Mary did manage to conceal her dismay enough to try it out, though. I'm sure it brought back wonderful memories of her indentured servitude in the Collegium Musicum at Cleveland State University.

This cornetto is made from resin, like the one I borrowed from Indiana University this summer. But it is covered in leather, so it feels much nicer. Some of my colleagues have formed a Baroque chamber ensemble. I hope to master the cornetto enough to play with them by next fall.

Friday, December 30, 2005


Coming home from my parents' house, I spent quality time with my nano. In the course of removing and replacing earbuds to listen to the comments and complaints of the spouse and progeny, I reflected that in the darkness I had no idea whether I had correctly placed the L bud in my left ear. The next tune came up, and I pondered whether it felt backwards or lopsided. Should the prominent voice favor my left ear, or my right? Do I even have a dominant ear?

Due to vision problems as a youngster, my right eye is decidely dominant. Thus I am willing to accept the possibility of lopsided perceptual facilities. In a bizarre way, it feels like prominance in stereophonic recordings should start in the back right, moving diagonally to the front left, though still mostly centered. I think the back to front is a coupling of low-to-high pitch with background-to-foreground. And yes, there are background voices that dominate over their brethren in my hierarchy.

Anybody else with ear dominance?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Nanoo, Nanoo

It was a very nano Christmas here in the frozen tundra. Those receiving a Nano iPod included my brother, dad, and ME! I need to update the ancient 10.1.5 system on my TiBook so my iPod can talk to the appropriate version of iTunes, but I've been downloading some music via my mom's computer to tide me over. I now need to decide how often I want to listen to music. If I make it ubiquitous, I stop listening, which I consider a bad thing. I think it will mostly be used for jogging and long car/airplane trips, though I am listening right now as I am blogging ("The Dream of Kings" from the House of Sand and Fog soundtrack).

Music related gifts I gave out include a Evgeny Kissin CD to one niece, a Martha Graham DVD to the other niece, and a book on sound engineering for my eldest nephew. They seem to like the presents. My niece is even writing a paper on Graham right now, so the DVD was very appropriate. I hope everyone is having the best winter holiday that they can.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Holiday Party

[fictional emails, no actual person named Terry in the HR department. Via a colleague.]

FROM: Terry - Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: December 13th, 2005
RE: Christmas Party

I'm happy to inform you that the University Christmas Party will take place on December 23rd, starting at noon in the private function room at the Walden Inn House. There will be a cash bar and plenty of drinks! We'll have a small band playing traditional carols...please feel free to sing along. And don't be surprised if the President shows up dressed as Santa Claus!

A Christmas tree will be lit at 1.00 p.m.. Exchange of gifts among employees can be done at that time, however, no gift should be over$10.00 to make the giving of gifts easy for everyone's pockets.

This gathering is only for employees! The President will make a special announcement at the Party.

Merry Christmas to you and your Family.


FROM: Terry - Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: December 14th, 2005
RE: Holiday Party

In no way was yesterday's memo intended to exclude our Jewish employees. We recognize that Chanukah is an important holiday, which often coincides with Christmas. From now on we're calling it our 'Holiday Party'. The same policy applies to any other employees who are not Christians. There will be no Christmas tree or Christmas carols sung. We will have other types of music for your enjoyment.
Happy now?

Happy Holidays to you and your family,


FROM: Terry - Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: December 15th, 2005
RE: Holiday Party

Regarding the note I received from a member of Alcoholics Anonymous requesting a non-drinking didn't sign your name. I'm happy to accommodate this request, but if I put a sign on a table that reads, "AA Only", you wouldn't be anonymous anymore!!!! How am I supposed to handle this? Somebody?

Forget about the gift exchange, no gift exchange allowed now since the Union Officials feel that $10.00 is too much money and Management believes $10.00 is a little cheap. NO GIFT EXCHANGE WILL BE ALLOWED!


FROM: Terry - Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: December 16th, 2005
RE: Holiday Party

What a diverse group we are! I had no idea that December 20th begins the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which forbids eating and drinking during daylight hours. There goes the party! Seriously, we can appreciate how a luncheon at this time of year does not accommodate our Muslim employees' beliefs, perhaps the Walden Inn can hold off on serving your meal until
the end of the party - or else package everything up for you to take home in a little foil doggy bag. Will that work?

Meanwhile, I've arranged for members of Weight Watchers to sit farthest from the dessert buffet and pregnant women will get the table closest to the toilets, Gays are allowed to sit with each other, Lesbians do not have to sit with gay men, each will have their own table. Yes, there will be flower arrangements for the gay men's table too. To the person asking permission to cross dress - no cross dressing allowed.

We will have booster seats for short people. Low fat food will be available for those on a diet. We cannot control the salt used in the food we suggest those people with high blood pressure taste the food first. There will be fresh fruits as dessert for Diabetics. The restaurant cannot supply "No Sugar" desserts. Sorry!

Did I miss anything?!?!?!?!?!


FROM: Terry - Human Resources Director
TO: All F****** Employees
DATE: December 17th, 2005
RE: The ******* Holiday Party

Vegetarian pricks, I've had it with you people!!! We're going to keep this party at the Walden Inn whether you like it or not, so you can sit quietly at the table furthest from the "grill of death", as you so quaintly put it, you'll get your f****** salad bar, including organic tomatoes. But you know, tomatoes have feelings, too. They scream when you slice them. I've heard them scream. I'm hearing the scream right NOW!!

I hope you all have a rotten holiday. Drink, drive, and die.

The Bitch from HELL!

FROM: JOHN - Acting Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: December 18th, 2005
RE: Terry and Holiday Party

I'm sure I speak for all of us in wishing Terry a speedy recovery, and I'll continue to forward your cards to her. In the meantime, the Vice President has decided to cancel our Holiday Party and instead, give everyone the afternoon of the 23rd December off with full pay.


Friday, December 23, 2005

Winter = Hibernate, right?

I wish I had been hibernating. Instead, I was finishing grades for the semester (check out the final results of this semester's class blog), buying a house, moving into the house, writing letters to the editor and my Congressmen (secret laws, secret lawbreaking), putting up Christmas decorations, buying presents, conducting my War on Michaelmas, and baking cookies. I also finally got the wireless working in the new house, hence I can start blogging again. (Plus, my temporary house had two accidental movie channels with my basic cable service, whereas the new house actually gives me only the channels I paid for.)

I thank all those who linked to my Mozart post, though I must say that I did not create the letter, as shown by the age of these sites. I'll be reporting from the frozen tundra in a few days, more to come.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The problem of amplification

Lisa Hirsch writes about the negative effects of amplification in the Berkeley Rep. I experienced a similar amplified performance when I took my daughter to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's Yuletide Concert. I wasn't bothered by the amplification of the singers, but the orchestra seemed very flat in timbre, dynamics, and emotion. Hilbert Circle Theater is already a problematic performance space, as it was originally designed to be a movie theater rather than an orchestral hall. The auditorium doesn't have enough volume for decent reverberation time, so they had to design electronic "cheats" to give the proper acoustic signature. They turn off these cheats when doing their pops concerts, replacing them with a blanket amplification. The brass, seated way up by the organ pipes, have none of the shock-n-awe that they normally produce, because the amplification normalizes the loudness of every section. Thus the brass is as loud as the strings, or even the bassoons fer chrissakes!

I don't think amplification automatically creates a bad performance experience. But I do think very few sound engineers have the time or knowledge to accurately capture the nuances of a full orchestra.

But what about the sword?

Fafblog reviews the ultimate opera.
The sun rises to hail the third act, which is attacked by the first act and set on fire by the rest of the score. The prince is forced to answer three riddles; they are mistaken for women and married off to random viceroys to everyone's amusement just before their leitmotif explodes, killing everyone.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Authentic link

I'm linking to AKMA for the first time in the body of a post, in a clear effort to get my wife into Seabury-Western next year. But seriously, AKMA has a great post about authenticity in musical performance. I think I agree, though "authenticity" can also be a technical term to describe efforts in replicating performance practices from the time period of the composition. It can still be misleading to suggest that these period performances are more authentic than those on modern instruments with modern techniques, but it has entered the jargon for better or worse.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

RIP Donald Martino

I was saddened to learn that Donald Martino has passed away. I relied upon his compositional insights on articulation when writing my dissertation. Here is a favorite quote that shows Martino's humor as well as musicalintelligence.
The dash, to performer one (a string player) is a bowing indication whose attack characteristics might range from relatively incisive to barely audible; to performer two (a wind player) it means a soft attack. Performer three reads this sign as tenuto: a term which is variously interpreted as “hold the note its full value” or “hold the note a bit longer than its full value.” Attack for this player has never been of great concern. To performer four, a dash means that the note is somehow invested with great expressive significance and, therefore, he is free to play in whatever manner seems most appropriate. And to performers five through infinity it means things the aural results of which are too horrible to contemplate.

Donald Martino, “Notation in General — Articulation in Particular,” Perspectives of New Music, 4/2 (1966), 47.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Scream with a good tone

Today Terry Gross had a voice coach on Fresh Air. Melissa Cross teaches punk and heavy metal rockers how to scream without hurting themselves. It's pretty fascinating, especially when she demonstrates healthy screams vs. bad screams. I had no idea we have a set of false vocal chords, which I see are also used in throat singing. Listen to the whole show, you'll also learn how to talk without strain.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

To Ayre is Human

I got the school library to purchase Golijov's Ayre, and yesterday I had the chance to check it out and listen to it twice. I fall in between Alex Ross and Charles T. Downey, though much closer to Alex's opinion. I think Charles' problem (and Jens' in comments at ionarts) is that they approached the music as a classical work, an art song cycle. Ayre is a mongrel creature, a mix of pop, world music, art song, electronica, and performance art. The sixth song, "Wa Habibi," caught me off-guard the first time, with its heavy emphasis on glissanding synthesizers. But it has a unique charm, as does each song. Ayre somewhat reminds me of Bach's Magnificat. Each movement creates a specific character, with often sharp shifts from one movement to the next. Despite these radical differences, the work retains an overall cohesion. Ayre is definitely a lighter work, but I think it is a lot of fun to listen to, and recommend it to almost anyone.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Sweet Animals

By Katelyn Elizabeth Spiegelberg (transcribed by her doting father)

A monkey was on the road. The monkey didn't know where the car was going. So he followed it. Then, a truck came up. The monkey was scared. And then it was a pet store truck. The monkey ran and hid. But the pet store owner caught him. The monkey was very scared. "Hmm," said the monkey. And then a rabbit came up. Why did the rabbit hop? Because it was trying to get to the pet store. And then a little girl came and picked out the monkey as her pet. But the rabbit wanted her. But the pet store owner said, "You can be my pet."

She decided she wanted to make a book, and was inspired by a stencil that had a rabbit and a monkey on it. Those stencils decorate the cover of the book.

Note the tension right away. The road is transition, made more frightening because of the lack of destination. The tension builds as identities are confirmed, and action taken against the protagonist. Then, when all is darkest, some humor is injected with a carefully placed "Hmm." A new character is introduced to keep the reader's interest, along with a change in authorial tone. This seemingly separate narrative strand is entwined to the original plot. Just when we think the rabbit will achieve the monkey's escape, yet another character comes onto the scene. With the resolution of the monkey's plight, it becomes apparent that this was not the primary conflict. The real conflict was between the monkey and the rabbit, not the monkey and the pet store owner. Both animals wanted the same owner, even if the monkey did not have that self-awareness at the beginning of the story. The ending is intentionally open-ended. Is the rabbit happy with this substitution? Does he even agree to be the pet store owner's pet? Is the pet store owner acting out of altruism, or for more nefarious purposes?

[Hey, John Scalzi did it, why can't I?]

Mozart in the Academy

Dear Dean

This is in response to your suggestion that we appoint Mr. Wolfgang Mozart to our music faculty. The music department appreciates your interest, but the faculty is sensitive about its prerogatives in the selection of new colleagues. While the list of works and performances submitted by the candidate is impressive, the committee feels that it reflects too much activity outside of academia. Mozart does not have an earned doctorate and has very little formal education and teaching experience.

There is also evidence of instability and wanderlust in his resume. Would he settle down in a music school like ours? Would he be a team player? We are concerned about the well-publicized incidents leading to Mozart's dismissal from his former employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg. Mozart's lack of respect for authority suggests an inability to work with our team. Franz J. Haydn's letter of recommendation is supportive, but Haydn is writing from a unique situation. The Esterhazy palace is a private institution and consequently able to accommodate talented non-academics, like Haydn. Here we are concerned about everybody, not just the elite. Furthermore, we suspect cronyism in Haydn's recommendation for his close friend. It is well known that Mozart dedicated six string quartets to Haydn, perhaps in the hope of gaining his support.

After Mozart's interview with our distinguished musicology faculty, they reported him to be sadly lacking in knowledge of Western Music before Bach and Handel. If he were to teach only music composition, this might not be a serious problem. The questions remains, however, would be he an effective teacher of music history? The applied faculty were impressed with his pianism, but thought his performance on the violin and viola stretched his versatility dangerously close to dilettantism. The composition faculty was also sceptical about his vast output of works in all genres. They correctly point out that Mozart's prolificacy has resulted in works of inconsistent quality. One of our full professors mentioned that Mozart shamelessly promotes his music through his own performance. Despite his notoriety he has never won the support of a single major foundation.

One of our faculty members was present a year ago at the premiere of Mozart's performance of one of his piano concertos. After the performance he was astonished to discover that Mozart had not bothered to write out the entire piano part before the performance. This type of improvisation may be very well in his world, but it is unacceptable behaviour in the academy. We expect deadlines to be fully met including all paperwork.

It must be admitted that Mozart is an entertaining man at dinner where he spoke enthusiastically about his music and his travels. Yet a female faculty member was deeply offended by his misogynist jokes. She left the room after his tasteless attempts at scatological humour. This type of behaviour is not surprising from a composer who found the subject of Don Juan suitable for an opera.

As a committee we were happy to have had the chance to meet the candidate from Salzburg, but we cannot recommend his appointment. Even if he were acceptable, Mozart has no hope of achieving tenure. He hasn't completed his doctorate and he spoke disparagingly about continuing his education. When you write to Mozart, please give him our kindest regards. We wish him every success in his career. The committee is unanimous, however, that he cannot fulfil the needs of our department.

We wish to recommend the appointment of Antonio Salieri, a musician of the highest ideals and probity who accurately reflects the aims and values that we espouse. We are eager to welcome such a musician and person to our faculty.

Sincerely yours,

The Search Committe

P.S. Some good news. Our senior professor of composition tells me there is now a very good chance that a movement of his concerto will have its premiere within two years. You will remember that his work was commissioned by a foundation and won first prize nine years ago.
[via a colleague]

Monday, December 05, 2005

The DePauw Blogging Juggernaut

One of my colleagues, Eric Edberg, has joined the blögøsphère. He has posts on his sabbatical in New York, a performance of La Monte Young's solo cello work, a debate caused by his video of left-hand technique, and something of his personal side about the death of a friend and frustrations. Please read Eric's blog and welcome him to our corner of the interwebs.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The budding author

My 5 year-old daughter wrote her first poem today. She typed it on the computer by herself, without any help whatsoever. Here it is.
tip seeze a little boy wat is a tip asked the little boy a tip is a mountain is the teenyist top of the mountain top

Thus ends my proud father bragging moment.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Cosmic Varianche!

I know some bloggers dream about getting linked by Instapundit or Atrios. I'm happy to get a mention from the premiere physics blogs out there. My previous brush with heavy traffic was over a year ago, when Virginia Postrel linked to my post on the anthems in the Olympics. Welcome to all Cosmic Variance visitors. You may find my posts on acoustics of interest.

Continuing our theme of hit rates and the science blogosphere, we see a request by PZ Meyers to list the percentage of international visitors and political affiliation. My current counter has 24% international*, not as high as PZ's, but higher than Powerline. I am socially liberal and fiscally conservative, which means that I vote Democrat.

Checking my referrals, amongst the Cosmic Varianchers and Uncertain Principlists I found proof of my international stardom: a link from a Norwegian blog.

And moving from traffic stats to pure science, Dave Munger has another cool post on music cognition. This time, it is on identifying musical styles. In the comments, I point out a worry that using one composer could cause problems because of a certain unity of musical language or lack of aesthetic investment in some of the styles. David Cope created EMI, a computer program that can mimic composers by stealing bits from existing pieces to create new pieces. Thus a brand new Bach chorale or Chopin mazurka is created. Dalla Bella and Peretz could replicate the experiment using piano pieces composed by EMI in the style of Bach, Mozart, Chopin, and Schoenberg, without worrying that musicians would recognize the pieces or that artificial similarities or deficiencies were present. In fact, EMI-composed pieces seem to be a boon for many music cognition studies. Note to self.

*6% Canada; 5% UK; 4% Finland; 2% each Norway, Mexico, Australia; 1% each Poland, Lithuania, Italy.