Later On

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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

The Dunning-Kruger effect in pop-culture commentary

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An interesting article by Amanda Ann Klein and Kristen Warner in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Note that they do not specifically mention the Dunning-Kruger effect, but that’s clearly what’s at work.

Academics in the humanities — but particularly those who specialize in film, television, and comics — have come to view the pop-culture thinkpiece with dread. Invariably some new essay on, say, taste and television is published to great fanfare, at least from other writers of pop-culture thinkpieces. They proceed to treat as “new” or “innovative” some idea or trend that we in academe been writing about for years.

Decades of scholarship are erased by a single, viral essay that is presumed to be the first observation of some “new” phenomenon. Mainstream journalists don’t realize that the subjects they’re writing about, the patterns and shifts they’re noting for the first time, likely have numerous journal articles and possibly even full monographs devoted to them.

If it were just a question of crediting the work of scholars, most of us would lick our wounds and slink away. But it’s not just that. What pains us more than the absent citation is the unsupported claim, the anachronistic parallel, the apocryphal anecdote.

In other words, these thinkpieces almost always get it wrong. The writers, like many a college student, simply haven’t done the reading.

In the college classroom, students’ initial evaluation of art is often based (understandably) on ignorance. They misread, misinterpret, and misunderstand because they simply don’t know what they don’t know. For example, the first time students see Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 film, Breathless, they often assume his jump cuts are sloppy editing mistakes, rather than a conscious strategy on the part of the director to subvert the polished style of the 1950s French “Cinema of Quality.” In the classroom that is called a “teachable moment.” Mistakes and misunderstandings offer professors platforms for engaging students in productive but also corrective discussions.

The internet is not a classroom — however much we like to think it is. When writers for major news magazines misread, misunderstand, and mistake their objects of study, they are not synonymous with students and that situation is rarely a teachable moment. That’s because readers have been conditioned to expect that their news sources present them with accurate information.

But that is often not the case in the current online publishing landscape where speed, not accuracy, is valued, and clicks are king. The new culture of immediacy — based on anecdotal knowledge, individual experience, and the occasional nod toward what can be found in a quick Google search — is the lifeblood of this cultural moment.

We didn’t write this to knock anyone’s hustle; to the contrary, this essay is a request for reciprocity. We just want mainstream journalists to be aware: The thoughts and ideas that the news media spotlight as “original” aren’t actually all that original. Someone likely wrote something about that idea/era/film/TV show/music before, and it’s up to you to find out what’s been said and assimilate that knowledge with your initial argument. That write-up you’re planning on antiheroes, reality-television history, or the networks’ exploitation of black audiences? It has a scholarly antecedent just waiting to expand your knowledge of the subject.

In a recent article for The Chronicle, Noah Berlatsky offers a spirited defense of ignorance on the internet. Though Berlatsky is himself a dedicated pop-culture scholar, having published a monograph on Wonder Woman with a respected university press, he warns his fellow pop-culture scholars about getting too territorial: “The enshrinement of hard-won expertise — the insistence that value consists in being able to tell right from wrong — is exactly the mind-set that makes work in the humanities so easy to denigrate.”

Instead, Berlatsky asks that we celebrate the fact that there are so many people on the internet excitedly writing about art, whether or not what they are writing is factually or historically sound. “Art’s value isn’t in objective expertise,” he writes, “but in its ability to confound subjectivity and objectivity, to scramble the barriers between how one person thinks, how that other person thinks, and how everybody thinks. In art, a misinterpretation may be wrong, but it is always an opportunity.”

In other words, if you truly love art and want more people to love it too, then it is necessary to welcome critics of all skill levels into the tent. Popular culture is the culture of the populace, after all. Therefore, everyone’s opinions on popular culture have value, right?

Not necessarily.

Over 40 years ago, the French philosopher Louis Althusser, in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, offered one of the best defenses of the humanities. He argued that . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 August 2016 at 11:10 am

Duplessy & the violins of the world “Crazy Horse”

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I think that odd instrument on the left is a nyckelharpa.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2016 at 8:41 am

Posted in Music, Video

Club Date Musicians, by Bruce MacLeod

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I wracked my brain to remember this—I recalled a long article in the New Yorker about club date musicians, but then I remembered Google.

Amazon has the book (also available here), though it seems to be out of print. Google Books provides a summary:

New York-area club date musicians play from memory, often drawing on repertoires spanning fifty years of popular music to produce arrangements on the spot. Impressive as their skills are, though, they occupy an ambivalent position: their art must be background, never overshadowing the event, whether a wedding, a bar mitzvah, or a debutante ball. Their artistic and musical skills, finely tuned for club date gigs, are rarely even noticed, much less remarked upon, by their audiences.

Club Date Musicians is a pioneering ethnomusicological portrait focusing on the three hundred to five hundred New York musicians whose primary income is derived from playing private parties. Interviewing more than a hundred musicians and observing more than forty performances, Bruce MacLeod lets the musicians speak for themselves.

MacLeod examines the relation of audience to performer, the ensembles’ social and musical organization, the musicians’ economic and social status, and the process of change within the musical culture. The reader will discover why New York club date musicians don’t use written music, how rock and roll has affected the occupation, and why the stereotypical picture of the bored, inept club date performer is unfair.

It was fascinating reading.

Somehow I’m reminded of the scene of the comics sitting around a diner table in Carnegie Delicatessen, their stories acting as the frame for one of Woody Allen’s good movies, Broadway Danny Rose, talking about the old days, how many venues were available in New York and just over the river in New Jersey. They were bemoaning how many had closed, and one said his last dates had been in Philadelphia and then in Baltimore. “To be a comic today,” he said, “you have to have a good set of tires.”

I wonder what the club date scene is like today.

Broadway Danny Rose is, I think, a movie about forgiveness.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2016 at 4:16 pm

A (wonderful) piano arrangement of famous cellphone ringtones

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From this article in Motherboard by Steve Huff.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2016 at 9:10 pm

Posted in Music, Video

One stretch of Route 66 plays “America the Beautiful” if you drive at the speed limit

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Very interesting article by Maceagon Voyce on Nerdist. This video from the article:

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 11:55 am

Posted in Daily life, Music, Video

The Beasts That Keep the Beat

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More on animal dance and music perception, reported in Quanta by Ferris Jabr:

There are moments when we witness an animal do something so far outside its presumed repertoire of behavior — something so uncannily human — that we can never look at that animal, or ourselves, the same way again. For Irena Schulz, one of those moments happened on an otherwise ordinary day in August, 2007. Schulz lived in Schererville, Ind., where she managed a sanctuary for abandoned parrots. A man named Dane Spudic came by with a young male Eleonora cockatoo called Snowball — a striking creature with milk-white plumage and a sweep of lemon feathers on his nape that fanned into a mohawk when he was excited. Spudic explained that his family could no longer give the increasingly cantankerous Snowball the attention and care he needed.

Oh, and by the way, he added, this bird is an incredible dancer. You should see what he can do. Spudic left behind a burned CD of Snowball’s favorite music.

Schulz was someone who already had a deep appreciation for the intelligence and myriad talents of birds. She had even seen some parrots sway and bob to music. But Spudic’s claims seemed a bit hyperbolic. “We were humoring him, saying, ‘Sure, sure,’” Schulz recalls. Later that evening, she and her husband popped Spudic’s CD into the computer in their living room. Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” by The Backstreet Boys started playing. Immediately, Snowball, who was perched on Schulz’s arm, began kicking up his feet and bouncing his head with great zeal — and precision. His movements were synced with the beat. “I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Schulz said. “This bird was like a choreographed phenomenon. He wasn’t just picking up his leg and gingerly putting it down. He was literally foot stomping. I thought, ‘My god — the bird is enjoying this.’”

In time, the whole world would delight in Snowball’s exuberant jig. Schulz posted a video of the dancing parrot on the shelter’s blog, which someone else — possibly someone in Russia — copied to YouTube. It went viral, earning more than 200,000 views in one week. (Today, the video, which is now hosted on Snowball’s official YouTube channel, has more than five million views). Snowball appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman,Good Morning America and numerous other talk shows, and starred in commercials for Taco Bell, Geico and Loka bottled water.

Snowball’s public debut also caught the attention of two scientists at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, Calif.John Iversen and Aniruddh Patel were interested in the evolutionary origins and neuroscience of rhythm and music. At the time, there was no documented evidence that nonhuman animals could dance — or, in more scientific terms, that they could “entrain” their movements to an external beat. “We saw this video, and it really knocked us out — it was the first time we had ever seen this,” Iversen said. “As scientists, you love these kinds of moments.”

Iversen and Patel tested Snowball in controlled experiments, altering the tempos of his favorite songs and observing how he responded without any training or encouragement. Snowball danced in bouts, rather than continuously, but frame-by-frame video analysis confirmed that he adapted his movements to the match the altered beats. Soon after, other studies by separate research teams showed that numerous species of parrots could entrain to a beat, as could elephants. Monkeys, on the other hand, did not display much rhythmic talent in the lab.

The findings seemed to fit a hypothesis Patel had recently conceived: Musical rhythm, he argued, is a byproduct of “vocal learning” — the ability to reproduce sounds one has never heard before. Humans, parrots and elephants are all vocal learners. Elephants have been documented imitating the sounds of trucks and other animals, and parrots are literally synonymous with mimicry. Monkeys, on the other hand, are stuck with an inborn set of hoots and screams. Patel’s notion was that the evolution of vocal learning in select species strengthened the links between brain regions in charge of hearing and movement, which made musical rhythm possible. In the years following its introduction, the vocal learning hypothesis seemed to fit all the relevant data.

Iverson and Patel’s study of Snowball turned out to be just the prelude to a new concerto of research on musicality in the animal kingdom. In recent years, scientists have tested various species and found evidence that nonvocal learners such as sea lions and bonobos have rhythm too. In parallel, pioneering studies have begun to elucidate how the brain tracks a beat, work that may help corroborate that rhythm is not restricted to the planet’s most loquacious creatures. The new findings suggest that rhythm has a more ancient and universal evolutionary origin than was originally thought. “I don’t think the vocal learning hypothesis has much to teach us anymore,” said Peter Cook, a comparative psychologist at Emory University. “Beat keeping might be rooted in a really old, widely conserved mechanism, which is basically how brains communicate. What is more interesting is why some animals don’t do it.”

A World of Wild Rhythms

Patel and Iversen published their first study on Snowball in 2008. (Irena Schulz was a co-author on the paper.) The following year, Adena Schachner, at the time a researcher at Harvard University, and her colleaguesdemonstrated that an African grey parrot named Alex — the Koko of the bird world, famous for his large vocabulary — could also move to a beat, as could Asian elephants and 13 other parrot species identified through an exhaustive search on YouTube. Further evidence came from Columbia University neuroscientist and musician David Sulzer, also known as Dave Soldier, who had been recording albums with an orchestra of Asian elephants in Thailand, for whom he had constructed supersized drums, gongs and chimes. Meanwhile, Yoshimasa Seki of the Brain Science Institute in Japan and his team successfully trained budgerigars (parakeets) to peck an LED in time to a wide range of tempos. In related experiments by other researchers, rhesus monkeys largely failed to learn rhythmic tapping tasks: They took more than a year to grasp the concept and even then were inconsistent and tended to lag behind the rhythm.

By 2012, the vocal learning hypothesis seemed to be transitioning from a tentative notion to a promising explanation of rhythm’s biological origins. Because people, parrots and elephants had all evolved to be vocal copycats, they had an innate talent for recognizing and replicating auditory rhythms; in contrast, acoustically inflexible primates did not. But then a single maverick mammal — one not known for musical prowess — leapt from sea to stage, stole the spotlight and urged the scientific community to reconsider.

A few years after word of Snowball got around, Cook, then a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, was contemplating a suitable research project for himself and Andrew Rouse, a UCSC undergrad. Cook was studying cognitive psychology, in particular the behavior of pinnipeds — walruses, seals and sea lions — and he knew that Rouse had a passion for music. Perhaps, Cook thought, they could combine their interests and really put the vocal learning hypothesis to the test.

Though not quite as vocally proficient as parrots, walruses and seals can mimic novel sounds . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2016 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Music, Science

Rube Goldberg + music

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2016 at 9:23 am

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