Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
It’s not just studied at St. John’s, of course, but that is the source of my own memories. Nice little essay by Simon Willerton, which begins:
I want to explain a little of the background behind Tom Fiore’s musical post last year. In this post the aim is to explain to a numerate audience some of the origins of the Western seven note musical scale. I will try to assume no formal knowledge of music except perhaps a vague notion of what a piano keyboard looks like. I won’t get very far in the historical development, only up to about the middle ages.
There are two aspects of music relevant to this discussion: melody and harmony. Melody involves the consecutive playing of notes, like in any tune you can hum or whistle; harmony involves the simultaneous playing of notes like in a chord or multipart singing. In terms of Western music, it appears that harmony did not make an appearance until the middle ages; in this post I will not get on to harmony and how it had a significant effect on the precise pitch of each note. What I will explain here is the origin of the seven note Western musical scale in terms of the consonance of the octave and the consonance of the fifth, which in turn have their origins in the physics of the vibrating string.
I should add at this point that I learnt much of this stuff from the following great book which is freely available as a pdf.
- Dave Benson, Music: A Mathematical Offering, Cambridge University Press, 2006.
I also learnt a lot from talking to various friends and there is lots and lots of information on the internet one interesting looking document is
- Peter A. Frazer, The Development of Musical Tuning Systems.
The palette of notes – scales
If you are wanting to compose a piece of music, be you a caveman, a rock star or a member of the Royal College of Music, you must at some point – probably when you start – decide on which notes you will use, what your musical palette will be. By this I do not just mean which keys on the piano will you use: if you have chosen to use a standardly tuned piano then you have already significantly restricted the notes you can play – and we will see a little bit about which notes these are below.
The palette that you chose will be constrained to some extent by the instrument or instruments that you will using. For instance, many instruments, like the xylophone or the piano, will force you to use a discrete set of notes, whereas other instrument, like the violin or the voice, will theoretically allow you to use a near continuum of notes in your piece of music. In between these two extremes there are many instruments which on first sight appear to be based on a discrete set of notes but on which the player has some freedom to move or ‘bend’ notes somewhat, for instance by using the shape of the mouth (or ‘embouchure’) on instruments such as the clarinet or the harmonica.
Another possible constraint on the choice of the palette is ..
This is very cool indeed, and I’m definitely adding this to my Spanish efforts.
Actually, pretty cool. Take a look and take it out for a spin.
I’m watching this series via my Roku, and it’s totally fascinating. Highly recommended.
Interesting article by Joshua Green in the Atlantic Monthly:
Fans of the Grateful Dead are big believers in serendipity. So a certain knowing approval greeted the news last year that the band would be donating its copious archive—four decades’ worth of commercial recordings and videotapes, press clippings, stage sets, business records, and a mountain of correspondence encompassing everything from elaborately decorated fan letters to a thank-you note for a fund-raising performance handwritten on White House stationery by President Barack Obama—to the University of California at Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz was understood to be a fitting home not only because it exemplifies the spirit of the counterculture as much as, and perhaps even more than, Berkeley and Stanford, which also bid for the archive, but because the school’s faculty includes an ethnomusicologist and composer named Fredric Lieberman, who is prominent among a curious breed in the academy: scholars who teach and study the Grateful Dead.
It’s worth noting right up front the hurdles Dead Studies faces as a field of serious inquiry. To begin with, the news that it exists at all tends to elicit grinning disbelief; a corollary challenge is the assumptions people carry about its practitioners, such as my own expectation when arranging to visit Lieberman last year that I would encounter an amiable hippie, probably of late-Boomer vintage and wearing a thinning ponytail. Rough mental image: Wavy Gravy with a Ph.D.
Lieberman is nothing of the sort. A small man with parchment skin, wisps of white hair, and large round glasses, he could have looked more professorial only by wielding a Dunhill pipe. His interest in the Grateful Dead, he explained, had arisen largely by chance. In the 1960s, he studied under the noted ethnomusicologist Charles Seeger (father of Pete Seeger) at UCLA, and came to share his mentor’s dismay at the academy’s neglect of popular and non-Western music. Lieberman went on to teach a series of classes in American vernacular music and, though he held no particular fondness for the Grateful Dead, became one of the first academics to teach the band’s music, in the early 1970s.
In 1983, the Dead’s drummer, Mickey Hart, asked Lieberman to help …
by Greg Milner
A review by Brian Hayes in American Scientist
"The story goes that, late in his life, Guglielmo Marconi had an epiphany. The godfather of radio technology decided that no sound ever dies. It just decays beyond the point that we can detect it with our ears. Any sound was forever recoverable, he believed, with the right device. His dream was to build one powerful enough to pick up Christ’s Sermon on the Mount."
Thus begins Perfecting Sound Forever, Greg Milner’s cultural and technological history of the sound-recording industry. As far as I know, the original-cast album of the Sermon on the Mount has not yet been released on CD, but plenty of acoustic waves emitted in our own era have been captured and preserved, to become the golden oldies of future generations. Neil Young said it: Rock and roll will never die.
Living in an age of ubiquitous recorded audio, it can be hard to appreciate that sound was once the most evanescent of sensory experiences. Faces could live on in portraiture (even before photography), and words could be written down, but until Edison dreamed up his phonograph, the human voice never survived except in memory and imagination.
Edison thought he had invented a dictation machine; his business model was to sell recording equipment and blank media on which people would make spoken memos to themselves or perhaps to posterity. The recording of music was an afterthought; almost 25 years passed between the first version of the phonograph and the release of the first commercial music recordings. After that, though, it wasn’t long before the "phonograph" became the "record player." This was not to be an instrument with which we would record our own voices; instead, a few star performers — from Enrico Caruso to Hannah Montana — would sell millions of copies of recordings, which the rest of us would listen to over and over. The process of creating those sound recordings became an art, a science and an engineering profession.
Edison’s early phonographs recorded on wax-coated cylinders; the rival gramophone machines of the Victor Company played shellac-coated discs. The competition between these two recording formats was the first of many contests for market share that occupy much of Milner’s history. Over the years, consumers of recorded music have been confronted with a long series of choices: 78s versus 45s versus 33s, mono versus stereo, tubes versus transistors, tapes versus discs, cassettes versus eight-track, CDs versus vinyl, analog versus digital, and now MP3s versus WAVs and a dozen other digital file formats. Behind the scenes, equally contentious issues have divided the community of producers and sound engineers. Should the studio be a performance hall that contributes ambience to the sound, or an anechoic chamber? Do microphones belong out in the auditorium where a listener would sit or close to the voices and instruments? Should a performance be recorded all in one take or assembled from bits and pieces?
My own exposure to recorded music began around the time that the "record player" turned into the "hi-fi." …
Horowitz came to Iowa City when I lived there and played a concert in Hancher Auditorium, which I attended. (In the same auditorium I saw performances by Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie and his band, Stan Kenton and his orchestra, the Dave Brubeck quartet with the original personnel (including Paul Desmond), and others.)
Vladimir Horowitz, one of the great pianists of the 20th century, left Russia to settle in the United States in 1939. But, once the Cold War thawed, he famously returned home and played before rapt audiences. What we have here, I believe, is Horowitz playing Mozart’s Sonata in C Major during a 1986 recital Moscow. A beautiful piece. For good measure, I’ve also added Horowitz playing Chopin’s 2nd Piano Sonata at the White House. Both clips have been added to our YouTube favorites, and you can find more free classical music here.
Thelonious Monk: Blue Monk (Oslo, April 1966)
Thelonious Monk – piano. Charlie Rouse – tenor. Larry Gales – bass. Ben Riley – drums.
by Robin D. G. Kelley
A review by David Yaffe”You know people have tried to put me off as being crazy,” said Thelonious Sphere Monk. “Sometimes it’s to your advantage for people to think you’re crazy.” He ought to have known. Monk was one of only a few jazz musicians to appear on the cover of Time magazine (others include Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington and Wynton Marsalis) and was celebrated as a genius by everyone who mattered. Bud Powell, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins could not have imagined (or transmuted) the language of jazz without him. Yet the pianist was also constantly underpaid and underappreciated, rejected as too weird on his way up and dismissed as old hat once he made his improbable climb. Performer and composer, eccentric and original, Monk was shrouded in mystery throughout his life. Not an especially loquacious artist (at least with journalists), he left most of his expression in his inimitable work, as stunning and unique as anyone’s in jazz — second only to Duke Ellington’s and perched alongside Charles Mingus‘s.
He did leave a paper trail, though, and Robin D.G. Kelley‘s exhaustive, necessary and, as of now, definitive Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original offers a Baedeker of sorts. Jazz may be filled with fascinating characters, but it has inspired relatively few exemplary full-length biographies. (Among the exceptions are David Hajdu‘s Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn; John Chilton‘s Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz; Linda Kuehl’s unfinished With Billie, assembled by Julia Blackburn after Kuehl’s death; and John Szwed‘s So What: The Life of Miles Davis.) Kelley is, in many ways, a rarity. While many music journalists write amateur history, Kelley is an eminent historian at the University of Southern California. Rarer still, though his earlier books (including Race Rebels and Yo’ Mama’s DisFunktional!) examine race from a neo-Marxist perspective, his thinking took an apparent turn during the fourteen years he spent on the Monk project. While discussions of race and racism are recurrent — how could they not be in a biography of a mentally ill black genius in the middle of the twentieth century? — Kelley shows admirable restraint by never addressing politics beyond their appropriate role or treating Monk’s life as a political fable. Monk, a black man from humble origins, succeeded at becoming a bourgeois artist with a wealthy, devoted patron, and he is never criticized for it. Unlike Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Nina Simone and many others, Monk did not enlist in the struggles for freedom or power. Music and daily life proved to be difficult enough.
Kelley has created a lush portrait of the private, off-camera Monk, one it would have been difficult to paint without the unprecedented access he had to the Monk family, including Nellie, Monk’s widow, who provided substantial information before her death in 2002, and their son, Toot (otherwise known as TS), who opened up the archives once trust had been established. Kelley shows us the man who, when he wasn’t getting work in the early 1950s, played Mr. Mom. He shows us the musician who, when he wasn’t at home, needed some sort of neighborhood watch to make sure he didn’t drift in the wrong direction. It took a village. He had a family who tolerated his eccentricities and never pressured him to take a day job. Mingus had to work at the post office when freelance work was hard to come by; no matter how lean things got, Monk was able to work at the eighty-eight keys in his living room…
Dan Colman’s Open Culture is an invaluable blog, and he posts his greatest 2009 hits:
- 10 Power Tools for Lifelong Learners
- How a Bach Canon Works. Brilliant.
- Every TED Talk Under the Sun
- Top Ten Reasons Why the Kindle Won’t Be an iPod for Books
- The Bayeux Tapestry Animated
- Anne Frank: The Only Existing Video Now Online
- The Old Man & The Sea Animated
- Intelligent Video: The Top Cultural & Educational Video Sites
- Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Film Noir, Documentaries & More
- Free eBooks for Your PC, iPhone, Kindle & Beyond
- Ira Glass on Why Creative Excellence Takes Time
- James Joyce Reading from Finnegans Wake
- Learning Physics Through Free Online Courses
- Steve Jobs Demos the First Macintosh in 1984
- Tchaikovsky’s Voice Captured on an Edison Cylinder (1890)
- Helen Keller Captured on Video
- The Ancient History Learning Guide
- Bill Gates Puts Richard Feynman Lectures Online
- Sita Sings the Blues: Share It, Remix It
- Bike Tricks Courtesy of Thomas Edison
- Blogs & Podcasts for the Financial Crisis
- Google Puts Free Books on Your Mobile Phone
- When “Stand By Me” Travels Around the World
- The History of the Internet in 8 Minutes
- Disruptive Technology: Student Brings Typewriter to Class
Bob Keane, who founded the West Coast independent label Del-Fi Records in the 1950s and is best known for discovering and recording rock legend Ritchie Valens, has died. He was 87.
Keane, who survived non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosed when he was 80, died of renal failure Saturday in an assisted living home in Hollywood, said his son, Tom Keane.
"He was like the original independent record man in those days," said Tom Keane, a songwriter and record producer. "He was the guy going out and finding talent and developing it and getting it out to the masses."
A clarinet player who once led his own 18-piece orchestra, Keane briefly headed Keen Records in 1957 and released Sam Cooke’s No. 1 hit single "You Send Me" before launching Del-Fi Records.
In May 1958, Keane heard about Valens, a 17-year-old Mexican American singer and guitar player from Pacoima.
"I saw him at a little concert in a movie theater," Keane recalled in a 2001 Times interview. "There he was, a Latino kid doing just a few riffs and a couple of songs. But I was very impressed by his stage demeanor. The girls were going crazy, screaming."
Keane invited Valens, born Richard Valenzuela, to record demos at his home studio.
"We horsed around for a while and he started singing ‘Come On, Let’s Go,’ " Keane told the Times in 1980. "All he had was this title — he kept playing the same riff over and over. . . . I helped him put an ending and a beginning to it and added lyrics. Then we took it into Gold Star [Recording Studios] and recorded it."
With his name shortened by Keane, Valens was on his way…
Here are a couple in action:
Very interesting post on the More Intelligent Life blog by Gary Moskowitz:
Long before we debated what real punk-rock was, what true hip-hop was, or what made indie-rock authentic, jazz heads grappled with what is and isn’t jazz music. Now, the debate is whether jazz is dying off or not.
Not long ago Jae Sinnet, a jazz drummer, composer, educator and radio personality, told NPR that jazz is dying because people are falling out of love with it. Hip-hop, Sinnet says, stole jazz’s thunder. He also blamed club owners for removing pianos from their venues to save space over the years.
Sinnet’s claims are not unfounded. The Wall Street Journal‘s Terry Teachout reported in August that the audience for America’s great art form was withering away, based on data in the latest survey of public participation in the arts. According to the report, America’s jazz audience is not only shrinking, it’s aging. Attendance at jazz performances has dropped 30% since 2002. The median age of concert patrons in 2008 was 46; in 1982 it was 29.
In July 1972, musician Johnny Cash sat opposite President Richard Nixon in the White House’s Blue Room. As a horde of media huddled a few feet away, the country music superstar had come to discuss prison reform with the self-anointed leader of America’s "silent majority." "Johnny, would you be willing to play a few songs for us," Nixon asked Cash. "I like Merle Haggard’s ‘Okie From Muskogee’ and Guy Drake’s ‘Welfare Cadillac.’" The architect of the GOP’s Southern strategy was asking for two famous expressions of white working-class resentment.
"I don’t know those songs," replied Cash, "but I got a few of my own I can play for you." Dressed in his trademark black suit, his jet-black hair a little longer than usual, Cash draped the strap of his Martin guitar over his right shoulder and played three songs, all of them decidedly to the left of "Okie From Muskogee." With the nation still mired in Vietnam, Cash had far more than prison reform on his mind. Nixon listened with a frozen smile to the singer’s rendition of the explicitly antiwar "What Is Truth?" and "Man in Black" ("Each week we lose a hundred fine young men") and to a folk protest song about the plight of Native Americans called "The Ballad of Ira Hayes." It was a daring confrontation with a president who was popular with Cash’s fans and about to sweep to a crushing reelection victory, but a glimpse of how Cash saw himself — a foe of hypocrisy, an ally of the downtrodden. An American protest singer, in short, as much as a country music legend.
Years later, "Man in Black" is remembered as a sartorial statement, and "What Is Truth?" as a period piece, if at all. Of the three songs that Cash played for Nixon, the most enduring, and the truest to his vision, was "The Ballad of Ira Hayes." The song was based on the tragic tale of the Pima Indian war hero who was immortalized in the Iwo Jima flag-raising photo, and in Washington’s Iwo Jima monument, but who died a lonely death brought on by the toxic mixture of alcohol and indifference and alcoholism. The song became part of an album of protest music that his record label didn’t want to promote and that radio stations didn’t want to play, but that Cash would always count among his personal favorites.
The story of Cash and "Ira Hayes" began a decade before the meeting with Nixon. On the night of May 10, 1962, Cash made …
I don’t rely on TIME much—for example, they list what they say are the 10 greatest electric guitar player of all time, and actually list 11. But Charlie Christian, who certainly should be close to the top of the list, is missing. They did get Les Paul, but what about Wes Montgomery? Chet Atkins?