Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
An interesting finding, reported by Bruce Bower for Science News:
Here’s a harsh piano lesson: Years of tickling the ivories go only so far for those who want to sight-read sheet music fluently, a new study suggests. Aside from those painstaking hours of practice, a memory skill that pianists have little control over may orchestrate their performance.
Sight-reading is the ability to play sheet music on an instrument with little or no preparation. Any piano player who practices sight-reading for thousands of hours will get pretty good at it, say study coauthors Elizabeth Meinz of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and David Hambrick of Michigan State University in East Lansing. But having a strong ability to keep different pieces of relevant information in mind while performing a task — known as working memory capacity — aids sight-reading regardless of how much someone has practiced, the psychologists report in a paper published online June 9 in Psychological Science.
In the researchers’ investigation, the best sight readers combined strong working memories with tens of thousands of hours of piano practice over several decades.
Working memory appears to be a capacity that gels early in life and can’t be improved much by learning, the study suggests. High scores on working memory tests did not cluster among volunteers who had practiced piano playing and sight-reading the most.
Previous research indicates that working memory capacity varies from one person to another and changes little from childhood to adulthood, the scientists say.
“Deliberate practice, although necessary for acquiring expertise, will not always be sufficient to overcome limitations due to a person’s basic cognitive abilities,” Meinz says.
When sight-reading, a piano player’s …
It’s a collaborative video in which every frame is drawn by an individual person, in honor of Johnny Cash. Take a look.
You can hear it here. From the link:
The Hurrians (also Khurrites; cuneiform Ḫu-ur-ri ) were a people of the Ancient Near East, who lived in northern Mesopotamia and areas to the immediate east and west, beginning approximately 2500 BC.
Prof. Anne Kilmer ( professor of Assyriology, University of California, and a curator at the Lowie Museum of Anthropology at Berkeley) transcribed one of the oldest known pieces of music notation in the world.
Clay tablets relating to music, containing the cuneiform signs of the "Hurrian" language, had been excavated in the early 1950s at the Syrian city of ancient Ugarit in what is now modern Ras Shamra.
The tablets date back to approximately 1400 B.C. and contain a hymn to the moon god’s wife, Nikal.
I listened to it. Musical tastes have changed quite a bit, you can tell.
Here it is in action:
Here is what you’re seeing:
Apart from a drum, it’s hard to imagine a simpler musical instrument than the willow flute: it’s a straight tube with a mouthpiece at one end and no toneholes. But far from being a limited toy, the willow flutes developed in Scandinavia (known as the salgflojt in Sweden, the seljefloyte in Norway, and the pitkahuilu in Finland; willow flutes are also traditional in Russia and several other countries) are capable of playing complex melodies over a multi-octave range. It’s all done through harmonics, breath control, and the judicious use of the index finger to cover the end hole.
More information here, including how to order.
No, not Zez Confrey‘s number:
And here’s the original Kitten on the Keys:
Hey, this guy’s good! Check this out:
And I should include my father’s favorite: Nola, by Fritz Arndt:
And here’s Les Paul, playing it on three tracks:
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…