Thursday, May 31, 2007

Music and the Self

This is a conference sponsored by ECHO, the online "music centered journal." Held at UCLA, in Schoenberg Music Building, the conference is this weekend, June 1-2. Here is the program:

Friday June 1st, 2007
Schoenberg Music Building, 1344

3:30 pm: Check-in and Refreshments

4-6 pm: Panel I
Philip Gentry (UCLA), Chair

James Deaville (Carleton University) "Trailers Are a Film's Worst Friend: Re-Framing Moulin Rouge Through Image and Music"

Charles Carson (University of Pennsylvania) "'But Do It With Taste': Race, Class and the Origins of Smooth Jazz"

Justin Schell (University of Minnesota), "'Modern Urban Norman
Rockwells': Hip-Hop and the Twin Cities"

6 pm: Dinner Catered by ASUCLA
Ackermann 2nd Floor Lounge

8 pm: Concert by Eric Wang, harpsichordist
Location: The Rotunda, UCLA Powell Library
Featuring works by works by Froberger, Soler, Scarlatti, and Handel


Saturday, June 2nd
Royce Hall, Conference Room 314

9 am: Coffee and Continental Breakfast

9:15-10:45 am: Panel II
Stephan Pennington (UCLA), Chair

Lisa Musca (UCLA) "Music as a Way of Knowing: Idealism, Bessonenheit, and Subjectivity in Beethoven's Late Bagatelles"

Silvio dos Santos (Youngstown State University), "Constructing Identity: The Case of Alwa in Alban Berg's Opera Lulu"

Sean Nye (University of Minnesota), "What is Teutonic?: On the German Question Today"

11-12:15 pm: Keynote Address: Susan McClary (UCLA), "Self-ish Musicology"

12:30-2 pm: Lunch on your own

2-3:30 pm: Panel III
Kelsey Cowger (UCLA), Chair

Ryan Dohoney (Columbia University), "Feldman's Grid and Pollock's Body: Avant-garde Performance and Cold War Masculinity"

Martin Nedbal (Eastman School of Music), "Dvorak's Armida and the Czech Oriental 'Self'"

Joseph Di Ponio (SUNY-Stony Brook), "Freudian Identity and the Prism of Guattari": (De)Territorializing the Narrative of Savatore Sciarrino's Infinito Nero"

3:30-4 pm: Coffee Break

4-5:30 pm: Panel IV
Zarah Ersoff (UCLA), Chair

Jennifer Saltzstein (University of Pennsylvania), "'Ci respondit la dame': Gender and Voice in Medieval French Song Citation"

Jenny Olivia Johnson (New York University), "'Those Songs': An Acoustic Reading of Childhood Sexual Abuse"

Robert Walser (UCLA), "Musicking as Selfing: How Our Brains Lie to Us and How We Lie Back"

They're wired differently!

Fred Himebaugh should feel vindicated in his disdain for people with synaethesia. Mind Hacks reports on a study that shows through brain imaging how synaesthetes have more connections in the fusiform gyrus. So essentially the white matter of synaesthetes brains are wired differently. Not only that, but different forms of synaesthesia reveal different forms of wiring. The article cited, from Neurophilosopher, also describes the different form of brain imaging, DTI, which measures water molecule diffusion. It's fascinating what scientists can come up with.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Dancing Well

I see a connection between the recent kerfluffle about the Atlanta Journal-Constitution dropping its music critic and Stefan Kac's critique of The Nation's music criticism. Stefan rightly points out that good writing about music does not involve jargon, but does require knowing the technical aspects of music so the key differences can be described accurately. Compare Stefan's description of "So What" and "Giant Steps":
Both Miles and Coltrane were moving away from the dominant jazz style of the late 1950's (known as hard-bop), but in different directions. For example, whereas Miles implemented more static harmonies and a relaxed tempo in his classic So What, Coltrane did the exact opposite in the landmark Giant Steps, filling the tune with many then unfamiliar chord changes and taking it at a blistering pace.

with Yaffe's:

Miles Davis's Kind of Blue had come out a couple of months earlier, just a few months after John Coltrane's Giant Steps, each disdaining chord changes in favor of solemn inquiries into chords and modes. Davis's So What coolly navigated between a couple of minor Mixolydian modes; Coltrane's Giant Steps circled the circle of fifths.

Go read Stefan's post to see what is embarassingly wrong about Yaffe's descriptions. But more importantly, this wrongness is compounded by the inscrutable jargon that tries to keep the audience from seeing the author's lack of knowledge. (See Calvin the academic)

The newspapers that have been canning their music critics don't understand the need for this specialized knowledge. Your average graduate of journalism school will not know the differences between Schoenberg and Stravinsky, much less between Augusta Read Thomas and Joan Tower. I also acknowledge that your average graduate of a music conservatory cannot express him/herself in writing well enough to get across these differences*, which is why a good music critic is so valuable. Write your local editor to either praise the local music critic or demand a good one. Even if newspapers are transforming into a different form of media, they still are the record of all important local events.

*I've been trying to change that with my seminars on music writing, though I'm not teaching it this coming year.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

It's HIP to be square

Last week I went to two concerts of the Bloomington Early Music Festival. On Saturday, May 19th, I took my daughter to see Bloomington Baroque, really a catch-all name for any group of musicians organized by Stanley Ritchie. In this case, it included my daughter's violin teacher, Allison Edberg, along with Kiri Tollaksen and Bruce Dickey (!) on cornetto, bassoon, continuo, tenor, and two violas da gamba. Kiri and Bruce were fabulous, they can play so in tune and with wonderful dynamic shadings. Allison played the Schmelzer violin sonata, and turned in a great performance. Then this last Thursday I schlepped back to Bloomington to see Kiri and Bruce play in Kiri's group, Quarter Comma (a tuning system joke). This included a great soprano, continuo, dulcian (bassoon) and harp. The bassoonist hit some clunkers in his featured pieces, and the harpist made me nervous with her uncertain stage presence, but overall the concert was great. I sat closer for this concert so I could watch Bruce's and Kiri's fingers, picking up some good tips from these observations.

Boston's WGBH will be broadcasting Boston's Early Music Festival from June 11-17. It looks like the only opportunities to hear period brass music will be Nachtmusique and the festival orchestra (which includes former classmate Alex Bonus). Full details of the broadcast schedule can be found here or here for pdf.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

FriPod: Sunday edition! Memorial Day

I had ten four and five year-olds over for a birthday party yesterday, which ate up all of last week and yesterday. Thus the lateness of this week's FriPod and the lack of blogging this week. This week's FriPod is devoted to Memorial Day weekend.

1. "Memories," by Charles Ives. I have two versions, by Thomas Hampson and Susan Graham. This song is in two halves: Very Pleasant and Rather Sad. The Very Pleasant portion is about waiting for a show at the opera house, rather manic in anticipation of the curtain rising. The Rather Sad part is the bittersweet part of nostalgia, regretting how some things have become old and worn over the years, perhaps to fade away completely. I think this sort of nostalgia is dangerous, leading to an idolatry of permanent things over changing people.

2. "Old Photos. New Memories," from James Horner's soundtrack to House of Sand And Fog. A provocative mix of solo piano with synthesized sounds that shifts to strings. A minimalist presentation, with an oscillating chordal progression. The movie is devastating, as each character neglects ways of connecting with each other, leading to sorrow for everyone. Another form of that dangerous nostalgia.

3. Elegy in Memory of Serge Koussevitsky, by Howard Hanson, performed by Gerard Schwartz and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Similar to Hanson's Romantic Symphony in some ways, this memorial to the great conductor and bass virtuoso pays tribute to SK's roots in romanticism. Hanson himself was also rooted in this backwards-looking movement, to the detriment of the Eastman students' educations on 20th century music during his tenure.

4. Tres Lent (In Memoriam Olivier Messiaen), by Joan Tower, performed by André Emelianoff on cello with Joan Tower on piano. This homage is almost creepy in its imitation of Quartet for the End of Time. There is passion, sorrow, respect. Why do these memorials avoid expressing joy for the great things these artists made?

5. "Hope and Memory," from Howard Shore's soundtrack to LOTR - The Return of the King. This clip starts very anxious sounding, but transitions to the hope from the Shire mixed with the Heroes' motive. These memories are nostalgic but full of joy for past accomplishments and hope for the future, rather than dreading any change (at least in the music, the books are a different story).

6. "Lammon tells how Pan saved Chloé in memory of his love for the nymph Syrinx. Daphnis and Chloé act out the story," from Daphnis et Chloé by Maurice Ravel, performed by Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Lush and romantic, this memory is not locked in the past, but willing to interact with the present to affect the future. Impressionistic candy, full of timbral colors through parallel chords and orchestration, and avoidances of cadences.

7. North American Ballads. 1. Dreadful Memories, by Frederic Rzewski, performed by the composer. This ballad starts very cheery, a lilting sea chanty. But a deceptive cadence leads to an abstract deconstruction of the ballad, revealing painful feelings hidden in the pleasant exterior of the melody. There is rage, confusion, sorrow, and regret.

Monday, May 21, 2007

New blog

Victor Grauer, who is a regular on the Society for Music Theory email list, has a new blog about ethnomusicology and the origins of music, called Music 000001. Related, the World of Music, the journal of the department of ethnomusicology at the University of Bamberg, has a blog presence advertising each issue.

Ways of ranking

In comments on the previous post, AC Douglas and Roger Bourland recalculate the list using Google links. I have done the same using the unpublished list of 116 blogs I have collected. Here are the blogs that didn't make the top 53 using Technorati, but would be in the top using Google (shoehorn them into Roger's list) (and some numbers are probably different, since I checked the statistics today):
#20: Vilaine Fille 854 (Crit)
#33: Daily Observations, 465 Charles Noble (viola)
#33: Fredösphere, 465 Fred Himebaugh (C)
#37: Café Aman, 421 Anastasia Tsioulcas (Crit)
#42: Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra Blog 368
#43: Brian Dickie 366 (artistic director)
#47: In the Wings, 346 Heather Heise (piano)
#48: Today's Opera News, 338 Alan Faust (O)
#49: Of Music and Men, 324 Ilkka Talvi (violin)
#50: Sound and Mind, 323 Kris Shaffer (A)
#51: Coloratur...aaah 322 (voice)

I won't mention which blogs would be cut to make room for these worthies. As I look at the different lists, I think Technorati has a better picture of the more current buzz, as it would with the emphasis on only the last six months. Google is a more historical approach, so even if a blog doesn't get new links in the past six months, it could still rank well based on past performance. Matthew Guerreri's blog is getting linked a lot lately, as the Technorati ranking shows, but by Google standards he would be down at #90 (oops, I just mentioned one). So I trust Technorati more for this use. Here is an old study comparing Google with Technorati, though some of his interpretations of the statistics are incorrect, particularly when comparing Google and Yahoo. Technorati doesn't record nearly as many links, the question is which links are important, and how old the links are.

Update: Chris Foley has generated his own list, using subscription rates on Bloglines, an RSS reader. He also makes good arguments for the validity of subscription ranking, not just because I go up considerably (to #11). However, I would have more faith with using statistics from one RSS reader if the numbers were considerably higher. There are 67 people who choose Bloglines to read this blog, but there could be many others that choose Google Reader, Kinja,, or other aggregators. And the proportion of readers choosing one service over another could change radically from blog to blog, augmented by these low numbers. If we were talking in the hundreds or thousands, I would have more confidence. But I also understand the limitations Chris worked with. You go to list with the statistics you have, not the statistics you want to have.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Top 51 53 Classical Music Blogs

Here is the semi-annual listing of the bløgösphère, not quite as painful as the running of the bulls. My decisions on whether a blog is about classical music was based upon painstaking research and whimsy. I have calculated the ranks using Technorati, despite the imperfections, because there is nothing else that provides near universal statistics. Roger Bourland pointed out that some of you are frisky, constantly changing your URLs around so you might end up with more than one listing in Technorati. Since the big T provides the number of unique blogs linking to a given blog, now called the Authority number, I decided to add these numbers together for blogs that had two listings. This was a painful decision, as it allowed Terminaldegree to bump me from the top 20. There were many other big moves and some new kids on the list, though Alex is still the top dog (sorry, Soho). The ranking listed is the new Authority number. If you don't see your blog up there, and it is mentioned somewhere in my blogroll or in comments, you didn't make the cut (which I had to extend to 52, since there was a three-way tie for 50). I have the rankings on a spreadsheet going past 100, so if you want to know your ranking, you can email me. For those curious about how classical music blogs stack up against everyone else, Alex's blog is #6247, and the lowest ranked blogs were ranked 198,543. So we stayed in the top 200,000, w00t! The categories stay the same as last time: C = composer, A = academic (musicology/music theory), L = listener, and O = opera fan, the rest are self explanatory. Link to the last ranking. Update: Technorati finally responded to my ping on Timothy Mangan's blog, so I can include his Classical Life in the list.
Update #2: Welcome to NewMusicBox readers. I would like to reiterate the comment made by Rob Deemer, that this list makes no claims about quality. What it does claim is how influential a given classical music blog is, as shown by how many other bloggers read and react to a given author/group. And that reminds me, should I include magazine style blogs like NewMusicBox (Authority = 171)?

1 The Rest is Noise: 508 Alex Ross (Crit)
2 About Last Night: 347 Terry Teachout (Crit)
3 A Singer's Life: 248 Michelle Bennett (voice)
4 Opera Chic: 193 (O) [two listings of 106 and 87]
5 Sequenza21: 182 Jerry Bowles (C)
6 Night after Night: 149 Steve Smith (Crit) [two listings 96 and 53]
7 On an Overgrown Path: 145 Bob Shingleton (producer)
8 PostClassic: 129 Kyle Gann (C)
9 Ionarts: 123 Charles T. Downey (A)
10 Diaries: 114 (violin)
11 Sandow: 107 Greg Sandow (Crit)
12 Think Denk: 96 Jeremy Denk (piano)
13 La Cieca: 94 James Jorden (O)
14 Soho the Dog: 87 Matthew Guerreri (C)
15 Jessica Duchen: 86 (Crit)
16 Dial “M” for Musicology: 67 Phil Ford and Jonathan Bellman (A)
17 Aworks: 65 Robert Gable (L)
17 The Concert: 65 Anne-Carolyn Bird (voice)
19 Sounds and Fury: 62 AC Douglas (L)
20 Terminaldegree: 61 (kazoo) [57 + 4]
21 Musical Perceptions: 58 Me (A)
22 Jason Heath's Double Bass Blog: 57 (bass)
23 Adaptistration: 54 Drew McManus (orchestra management)
23 Mad Musings of Me: 54 Gertsamtkunstwerk (O)
25 Deceptively Simple: 53 Marc Geelhoed (Crit)
25 Loose Poodle: 53 Peter Kaye (C)
25 The Rambler: 53 Tim Rutherford-Johnson (A) [41 + 12]
28 Roger Bourland: 52 Roger Bourland (C) [43 + 9]
29 Oboeinsight: 50 Patty Mitchell (oboe)
30 Meanwhile, here in France: 43 Ruth (cello)
31 The Standing Room: 40 Monsieur C (L and voice?)
31 Sieglinde’s Diaries: 40 Leon Dominguez (O)
31 Classical Music: 40 Janelle Gelfand (Crit)
34 A Sort of Notebook: 38 Waterfall (L)
34 ANABlog: 38 Analog Arts Ensemble
36 The Well-Tempered Blog: 37 Bart Collins (piano)
36 The Iron Tongue of Midnight: 37 Lisa Hirsch (Crit)
36 My Favorite Intermissions: 37 Maury D’annato (O)
36 Renewable Music: 37 Daniel Wolf (C)
40 An Unamplified Voice: 34 JSU (O)
40 Classical Life: 34 Timothy Mangan (Crit)
42 On a Pacific Aisle: 30 Josh Kosman (Crit)
42 Chicago Classical Music: 30 (L)
44 Listen: 29 Steve Hicken (C and Crit)
44 Wellsung: 29 Alex and Jonathan (O)
44 Twang twang twang: 29 Helen Radice (harp)
47 Trrill: 28 Nick Scholl (O)
47 Am Steg: 28 Kris Shaffer (A)
49 Musical Assumptions: 26 Elaine Fine (C and viola)
49 Sounds Like Now: 26 Brian Sacawa (saxophone) [18 + 8]
51 Eric Edberg: 25 (cello)
51 Collaborative Piano: 25 Chris Foley (piano)
51 Catalysts & Connections: 25 Evan Tobias (education)

FriPod: The Zoo

Today we took a bunch of seven year-olds to a birthday party at the zoo, because we are totally insane. It actually went very well, especially as it was done after regular zoo hours in a special zoo program that involved dinner and meeting some animals up close. We all got to pet a chincilla, a pygmy hedgehog (very cute!), a ferret, and a nine-banded armadillo named Leonard. This list is for you, guys.

1. " Zooropa," by U2, from Zooropa. Message: commercialism is ridiculous. Interesting layering effects.
2. "Visit the Zoo and Letters from Hogwarts," by John Williams, from the Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone soundtrack. This is when Harry performs his first magic, making the glass disappear from the snake's cage and then talking to the snake. Thus we get lots of magical sounding motives, a little scary but mostly in amazement. Then we cue in the celeste for the Letters segment. Lots of swirly strings for the owls delivering more and more letters.
3. "Old Yazoo," Fats Waller/Andy Razaf, performed by the Bowell Sisters. I love this old recording. "If you don't like beans and rice, get some rice and beans."
4. "A Little Duet for Zoot and Chet," Jack Montrose, performed by Chet Baker on Chet Baker With Strings. Naturally, this is also with Zoot Sims, a nice bit of counterpoint with minimal cheesy strings compared to the rest of this album. Chet's solo sounds much like Clifford Brown, though with a simpler timbre that is more consistent through all the register.
5. Animal Ditties, by Anthony Plog, performed by the Summit Brass. This eight movement work was originally for trumpet, narrator, and piano. Plog arranged it for brass choir with the narrator reciting the poems by Ogden Nash. Turtle, Porpoise, Python, Dog, Ant, Centipede, Rhinoceros, and Mule.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Calling all bloggers!

I'm starting to do the research for the next installment of the top 51 classical music blogs. If you know of a blog that wasn't on the last list or mentioned in the comments to that post, or listed in my blogroll, please name it here or email me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wiki Scores

I just found out about this great wiki that has public domain music scores as PDF files to download for free. The International Music Score Library Project is a great resource, which I have added to the list on the left.

Press Release: Persee: Orchestrated Perception

Los Angeles – The days of Honest Abe have long gone. When the president says something we doubt it, dissect it, debate it and in many cases designate it as untrue. But why? Have we decided that our leaders lie, or are we reacting to past lies told by presidents?
Drew Schnurr, a Los Angeles composer and UCLA professor, has recently cracked the code. In a piece entitled Symphony of Lies, Schnurr has extracted the melodies and rhythms from three American presidents, including President Bill Clinton, President Lyndon B. Johnson and President Richard Nixon at the moment they told some of this centuries most infamous lies. Using the speech inflections of each lie, Symphony of Lies is a musical display that represents the psychologically ominous impact of lying.
Over the past decades, we have caught our leaders telling “white lies” and deceitful coordinated lies. A white lie is a considered to be an often trivial, diplomatic or a well-intentioned untruth. White lies have the power to shift human perception but they have also been the motivators for much more influential events. “A lie is what we give power to,” commented Schnurr “and the impact of lies is distrust.” Whether lies are told with a total disregard to their influence or with good intent, deciding upon their personal impact is up to you.

Persee: Orchestrated Perception - Eye-Opening Music – Event Review
Avant-garde composer and UCLA professor Drew Schnurr’s mélange of visual and sound phenomena ripped a thread or two off the king’s robe with a formidable, mixed-media expose of the lies of U.S. presidents on Thursday night at the Regent Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. His experimental Persee: Orchestrated Perception filled the well-attended room with a series of stimulating musical and digital masterpieces. I loved it.

With the third piece of the evening, Drew answers his own question: What is the sound of deceit?- with the clever juxtaposition of repetitive, minimalist flashes of lies on a screen, and methodical bursts of disquieting chords. Like Beethoven himself, he uses volcanic string attacks to challenge the business-as-usual social veneer at the highest socio-political level.

Digital media artist Michael Chu was the visual player of the moment, adeptly projecting each of the lie’s words as its melody slid, or thundered, off the instruments. It made me wonder if an audience attuned to the music of deceit might not better recognize the nature of those they wish to lead them before selecting them for positions of power. Or do we hear their music without really listening? Hmmm.

The other two pieces were fascinating in their own ways. I’d never heard Drew before, and was impressed with his chamber ensemble’s melodic and harmonic ebbs and flows. By the end of the first piece I was captivated along with the rest of the audience. And the second piece, accompanied by C.E.B. Reas’s moment-to-moment digital process - which had me feeling like I was witness to the beauty of microbial flowering - was intoxicating. This composer bends and stretches rules within his own aesthetic, weaving his musical ideas in harmonious waves that threaten to drown, yet gently tumble
the listener forward with intrigue and anticipation.

Review by Adam Rosenthal, freelance writer, poet and songwriter from
Redondo Beach,CA

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

FriPod: Sorry, Moms!

Yes, it is far past Friday, and two days past Mother's Day, though fortunately I was prepared for the two mothers in my life. Still, I decided to break radio silence with a makeup FriPod devoted to mothers.

1. "Mother Goose," performed by Jethro Tull on Aqualung.
2. "Songs My Mother Taught Me," by Charles Ives, performed by Susan Graham.
3. "Ya Lo Mira Mama," by Batacumbele, arranged by Marty Robinson, performed by the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble.
4. "Mama's Gone – Goodbye," by Peter Bocage, performed by Midge Williams & Her Jazz Jesters.
5. "Una madre comio asado," from Ayre by Osvaldo Golijov, performed by Dawn Upshaw.
6. "Rosen Steckt Mir An Die Mutter," from New Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op. 65 by Brahms, performed by Catherine Edwards, John Alley, Jane Glover; BBC Singers.

So, besides celebrating Mother's Day I have been busy finishing another research article and traveling up to Wisconsin to see my dad awarded as a distinguished alumni of the UW. So I missed my opportunities to blog about the fight at the Boston Pops, George Bush taking over JoAnn Faletta's baton, or any other juicy bits of music blogginess. But I should be relatively back now, even though I do have to start working on my tenure file – a topic that has been big in the scienceblog community – and pack up my office to move into the brand spanking new Judson and Joyce Green Center for the Performing Arts.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Life imitating art

Patty provided a link to mad scientists exercising their compositional chops. She rightly asks what makes it "classical" when clearly it comes from our most base nature. I'm thinking club music. But that's not all. I already knew about this story, thanks to an interesting Google search referral: Carl Sagan kazoo. I naturally had to click on the first story, which is about another mad scientist splicing genes with music to create... But I'll let you read the short story yourself.

Break out the cornetti!

On May 14-16 WGBH (89.7 FM in New England) will be airing Monteverdi's Vespers (1610), performed by the Boston Baroque. WGBH's press release was thoughtful enough to provide a link to this essay on the Vespers by Pedrag Gosta. Here is a good reminder of how amazingly different historically informed performances can be:

The pitch in the 17th century was not standardized. Thus, a’ kammerton would differ from country to country, or even between cities in the same country. Such was the case in Italy as well, where the pitch was “moving” up or down as much as by a minor third.

How do we know which pitch was used in the music by Monteverdi? We know this from surviving tuning forks, wind instruments (such as cornetto), or organ pipes, which were made with a fixed pitch. We know that the pitch in Rome was, therefore, around 392 Hz (equal to today’s g’), and in Venice as high as 466 Hz (equal to today’s b’ flat).

The same piece could be played at a variety of different pitch levels, which (if you believe anything about the characteristics of keys) would change the character (temperament?) of the piece greatly. And here is Gosta's review of the recording to be aired by WGBH:

Martin Pearlman is known in the North-American community as a notable presenter of historically informed performances. With his Boston-based ensemble, he presents a recording which follows traditional theories about Monteverdi’s Vespers, but with a slight “romantic” approach. The singers are decent, but less experienced in early music style than on the Parrott’s and Pickett’s recordings. His tempi and division of sections are unconvincing and too vague for an experienced early musician. However, this recording is a pioneer in Northern American learning early music community.

The last sentence doesn't make any sense, but overall Gosta recommends Andrew Parrott's recording with the Taverner Consort, Choir & Players. However, I plan to listen to the webcast, since I haven't had a chance to hear Pearlman's version and I do like his recordings of the Brandenburg Concerti. The Vespers will be aired in parts at 10 am on each day in Cathy Fuller's Classics in the Morning show.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Another online cognition study

Those crazy folks at MIT's Music, Mind and Machine Group are conducting a study on the words people use to describe timbre. Here is their sales pitch:
Do you listen to music? Do you play music? Whatever your musical style, we would
love to hear what you have to say on the sounds of music! We are looking for
English-speaking individuals who are willing to describe sounds using everyday

Results from this study will be used to find whether people use a common
vocabulary to describe sounds, and how a person's musical background affects
his or her choice of words. Ultimately we plan to build a system to describe
sounds automatically based on their audio characteristics, and thus facilitate
their retrieval from a database, and an audio processing engine to modify
sounds using everyday words instead of non-intuitive technical parameters.

In this survey, which we have strived to make interactive and fun, you will hear
one or more sounds and will be asked to describe them by choosing words
presented to you or by using your own words. This survey will take around 10
minutes at the minimum, but if you enjoy it you can continue for longer! :-)

I took the test, and it was indeed short and easy. I went beyond the minimum by five questions, and still did it in less than 15 minutes. I'll be interested in seeing the results.

Myths of Music

Right now there is a good discussion going on at Crooked Timber about the distinction between folk music and popular music. Names like Bartok, Lomax, Elijah Wald, and Brittany Spears are being tossed around, so be prepared to duck if you get involved.

My bleg of the other day has been woefully neglected, so I am going to try again. Here is a list of myths about contemporary music. Add or subtract in the comments.

1. There is a distinct difference between contemporary classical music and contemporary popular music.
2. Contemporary classical music (hereby abbreviated CCM) is atonal.
3. CCM is ugly.
4. Nobody really likes CCM.
5. CCM is unnatural, it doesn't follow the laws of acoustics and cognition.
6. It is because of CCM that classical audiences are shrinking.
7. All CCM sounds the same.
8. Music should always sound pretty or pleasant.

So, I've left the list at an annoying 8, with at least two more myths to make the decimal system happy. You don't want the decimal system to cry, do you?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Dangerous Musicologist?

Read this letter about a musicologist who has been denied entry back to the US. Note that she had been living among us, teaching at Mills College. Also note that she is a citizen of that most dangerous of countries, the United Kingdom. And finally note that, in the interest of transparent justice, she has not been given an explanation in the eight months since she was turned back at the San Francisco airport. I applaud our highly politicized government for keeping a specialist in Indian vocal music and Welsh folk music (the horror!) from terrorizing our shores with long ragas and incomprehensible languages. Be sure to write the State Department to thank them for this courageous decision:
Jane Burt-Lynn, Public Inquiries Division, Visa Services, United States Department of State, 2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20520

Update: See Jonathan Bellman's better informed take on the situation. I had no idea that howling thirds were at stake!

FriPod: Pray

Given yesterday's post, which was unintentionally a propos given it was the National Day of Prayer, this week's FriPod examines praying.

1. "Down To The River To Pray" from O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, performed by Alison Krauss. This is probably my number one referral, leading people to one of my earlier posts. I'm not sure if this song has more resonance given my conversion, though it probably does. At least the words don't produce cognitive dissonance anymore, even if the song doesn't necessarily put me into a prayer mood.

2. The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, by Osvaldo Golijov, performed by Todd Palmer with the St. Lawrence String Quartet on Yiddishbbuk. This five movement work is for klezmer clarinet and string quartet. The first movement evokes old school Jewish scenery, a musical version of bobbing in front of the Western Wall. The last part of this movement does approach a meditative state. The second movement is a beseeching prayer, in fact all of the movements traverse between various prayer states: supplication, adoration, contrition, rage, peace, questioning.

3. "Invocation to Pan by the nymphs and the prayer of Daphnis" from Daphnis et Chloé by Maurice Ravel, performed by Charles Munch, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the New England Conservatory Chorus And Alumni Chorus. This is a scene from the ballet, not the concert suite that is usually performed. This is a little too lush to be a good prayer. The sensual nature of the music, glorifying in the sounds of the chords as most impressionist music does, and the seductive woodwinds and harps (I'm looking at you, Patty and TwTwTw!) brings too much of a focus on the material body and not enough on the ephemeral spirit.

4. Passion Prayers, by Augusta Read Thomas, performed by the Network For New Music Ensemble. This piece features a passionate cello solo with a small chamber group accompanying. This prayer is questioning, trembling, afraid of God yet drawn to It.

5. Prayer for Bruno, by Art Lande, performed by the Aries Brass Quintet. This little gospelly number uses a simple refrain that builds up over time, leading to an authentic cadence finally at 2:15. Then we start over again, except with a plungered trumpet solo over the refrain. So this represents charismatic church prayer, with the plungered trumpet as the minister haranguing his flock as the rest of the quintet calls out "Well" "Praise the Lord" and "Amen". Suddenly at five minutes in, the mood changes, transforming the now familiar refrain to a more abstract hymn briefly before Gospel reasserts itself for the conclusion (no plunger this time, though).

6. Prayer for St. Gregory, by Alan Hovhaness. I have three performances, by Rolf Smedvig, Charles Butler, and an arrangement by the Empire Brass. This is a beautiful piece, peaceful yet also questioning in a sense. The string accompaniment with the trumpet solo evokes Ives'
The Unanswered Question, except the trumpet works with the strings instead of against them. Hovhaness' prayer is also more historical, with typical sequences, cadential figures, etc. The Butler recording is a little too fast, and he doesn't punch the dramatic point enough. But the strings are better than the brass quintet'n'organ arrangement of the Empire Brass. Rolf plays with the organ (and horn) in his version. Rolf is more romantic in his approach, allowing the phrases to ebb and flow. At times this is nice, but in the middle his rubato takes away from the timelessness of the composition, trying too hard to place it within the Classical-Romantic tradition when there are clear pre-tonal references.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The purpose of prayer

I get many visitors searching for the purpose of music, so why not build off of that?

But really, this post is inspired by Chad Orzel's two questions and his conclusion, particularly by a comment made on the religion post.

I pray every day, at least once at night before going to sleep. Most of my prayer is indeed to "understand what [I'm] thinking and feeling," but there is more. I exercise my emotional muscles by reminding myself that I care for those who are sick, poor, or afflicted by injustice. I remind myself that there is much to be thankful for, such as my family, friends, nature, music, good food, good books, and the improvements I have seen in my own life. These daily reminders are a big part of my self-improvement. They don't have to be in the form of a prayer, but I like it that way, knowing that there is someone listening.

I disagree with Rob Knop's distinction between prayer and meditation or reflection. I've been informed by the lovely seminarian living in my house that there are many descriptions of prayer that do not include words. Meditation is a means of feeling the connection with God that Julia described so well. Reflection is a prayer not specifically addressed to God. Washing dishes, running in the woods, or performing music can also be a prayer, either consciously or unconsciously.

So, I pray to be aware of what I value. I pray as a means of strengthening my connections with friends and family. I pray to work out issues I am dealing with. And I pray to explore my relationship with God (Julia is a wordsmith).

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Put down the duckie!

Kris Tiner shares an incredible Sesame Street video, when Ernie gets some valuable music education. Besides the guest stars Kris names, I recognize everyone except the pompous British couple. They look vaguely familiar, perhaps from some BBC show that gets re-aired on PBS? The Jeremy Irons part is very funny, and it is great to see Pete Seeger.

Microsymposium help

Next week I will be joining a colleague and friend, Carlos Carrillo, to talk about contemporary music. Carlos has put together a Contemporary Music Microfestival, with two concerts of works by Glass, Schnittke, Gorecki, Torke ("key" composers), Carlos himself, and a few student compositions. These concerts sandwich a symposium that Carlos and I will lead. The description of the symposium is "the meanings and importance of the contemporary works performed in the Micro-Festival." I'm thinking that one possible topic is the myths of contemporary music: it is ugly, it is unnatural, it is atonal, it has no connection to music history, it has no connection to audiences. We could talk about why these myths abound, and why they are indeed myths. We can get into discussions of what beauty is, natural vs. artificial, whether contemporary classical music is monolithic, etc.

I could use some help from you dear readers. So, what are some myths of contemporary music? And what are ways of measuring the importance of contemporary works? Is it how often they are performed, or what other works they have inspired, or what critics report, or how much they are studied by theorists and musicologists? And finally, what other issues of contemporary music should be addressed in a microsymposium?

Anyone near Greencastle is encouraged to come to any of the events on Tuesday (7:30, Kresge Auditorium), Wednesday (6:30, Thompson Recital Hall) or Thursday (7:30, Kresge).

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Music Cognition Chat

Seed Magazine, which sponsors ScienceBlogs, has a great discussion between Daniel Levitin and David Byrne (yes, that David Byrne). They discuss the evolution of music, Asperger's and Williams Syndrome, memory, absolute pitch, synthesia, pattern detection, the social aspects of music; running through most of the curriculum I teach in my Psychology of Music course. It is a rather informal discussion, with each of them taking turns talking about things that they are working on. But that very informal nature makes the highly informative discussion that much more impressive. (via)