Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
Very interesting article about a series of tests to compare the quality of Stradivarius instruments with the best modern equivalents. The best modern instruments are, in the consensus of expert musicians, better than the Strads..
Very interesting example of unintended consequences and the success of some government programs. Whet Moser writes at Pacific Standard:
At some point over the last 15 years—sometime, say, between the 1999 release of “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys and last year’s “Roar” by Katy Perry—it became an inescapable fact that if you want to understand American pop music, you pretty much have to understand Sweden.
Songwriters and producers from Stockholm have buttressed the careers of Lady Gaga, Madonna, Usher, Avril Lavigne, Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys, Pitbull, Taylor Swift, One Direction, Maroon 5, Kelly Clarkson, and any number of other artists you’ve probably listened to while dancing, shopping, making out, or waiting on hold over the past decade. (And it’s not just American pop music that has Scandinavian fingerprints all over it: When Azerbaijan won the Eurovision contest in a 2011 upset, they did it with a song written for them by two Swedes.)
If Americans are aware of this phenomenon, it is probably because they’ve heard about the legendary Swedish producer and songwriter Max Martin. There are any number of ways to express Martin’s ubiquity, but here’s one: From 2010 to 2011, the pop idol Katy Perry spent an unprecedented 69 consecutive weeks in the Billboard top 10, surpassing the previous record-holder, the 1990s Swedish group Ace of Base, by four months. But the milestone was far more of a testament to Martin’s staying power than Perry’s: Not only did he help produce and write all but one of Perry’s record-breaking string of hits, but he began his career as a producer for Ace of Base. Max Martin has produced more number-one songs than anyone besides George Martin, the so-called fifth Beatle.
But Max Martin is not some kind of unicorn. Other Swedish producer-songwriters boast only moderately less impressive résumés: Anders Bagge, Andreas Carlsson, and Rami Yacoub, to name just a few, have likewise worked with incredible rosters of American pop stars. And even focusing on this shortlist of talent obscures a much larger infrastructure at work.
Sweden, and in particular Stockholm, is home to what business scholars and economic geographers call an “industry cluster”—an agglomeration of talent, business infrastructure, and competing firms all swirling around one industry, in one place. What Hollywood is to movies, what Nashville is to country music, and what Silicon Valley is to computing, Stockholm is to the production of pop. In fact, Sweden is the largest exporter of pop music, per capita, in the world, and the third largest exporter of pop overall. And in recent years, the country has seized not just the message, but the medium as well: As the industry moves toward a distribution model that relies on streaming music services, the Stockholm-born Spotify is a dominant player, with 24 million users per month.
So how did Sweden, a sparsely populated Nordic country where it’s dark for much of the year, become a world capital of popular music? Rarely does such a complex question lead to such a satisfying answer: Three-quarters of a century ago, . . .
All day yesterday I struggled to remember the name of the black singer—R&B, Doo-wop, Soul, etc.—who did such a fantastic rendition of “Danny Boy.” This morning I finally remembered: Mr. Entertainment, Jackie Wilson, who was felled in his prime at age 40 by a heart attack on stage. He lived 9 more years in a coma, finally dying in January 1984. Take a listen:
A bit of an exaggeration, but read this note in The Scientist by Jef Akst:
Analyzing the genomes of 767 people, Irma Järvelä at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and her colleagues identified genes involved in the development of the inner ear may affect musical aptitude. Specifically, people with variations found near the genes GATA2—integral to the development of the inner ear and the inferior colliculus, the brain region that first receives signals from the hair cells of the inner ear—and PCDH15—which is involved in the conversion of air vibrations into electrical signals in the hair cells—were better able to differentiate similar pitches and durations of sound as well as recognize musical pattern. The results were published this week (March 11) in Molecular Psychiatry.
Of course, the study does not mean that musical ability is purely genetic, Järvelä told New Scientist. “The environment and culture where you live are also important in musical ability and development,” she said.
In another study, published last week (March 6) in Current Biology, researchers demonstrated that, in addition to differences in musical aptitude, people vary in their emotional responses to music. Some university students who were monitored as they listened to familiar music didn’t seem to have any physical manifestations of the experience: crescendos didn’t drive up their heart rates or cause them to sweat, as such musical climbs did for others. But when asked to participate in an exercise involving the chance to win money, everyone’s heart raced.
“Music isn’t rewarding for them, even though other kinds of rewards, like money, are,” lead author Josep Marco-Pallerés, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Barcelona, told The Verge. Those who are indifferent to music are said to have specific musical anhedonia. “It just doesn’t affect them,” said Marco-Pallerés, who is now using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine differences in the participants’ brain activities as they listen to music. “Now that we know that there are people with specific musical anhedonia, we want to know the neural bases that might explain [it],” he said.
And in a third study, published yesterday (March 12) in Cerebral Cortex, researchers at McGill University showed that performing music helps people remember and recognize it thanks to the brain’s motor network. Psychology professor Caroline Palmer and her colleagues asked 20 skilled pianists to learn simple melodies, either by simply listening to them or by performing them. The musicians were then equipped with electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes to monitor the electrical activities of their brains while they listened to the same melodies, some of which had been tainted with wrong notes. For songs they had performed themselves, about 200 milliseconds after hearing incorrect notes, the pianists’ brains exhibited larger changes in brain waves and more increased motor activity, as compared with songs they had only heard.
“We found that pianists were better at recognizing pitch changes in melodies they had performed earlier,” first author Brian Mathias, a McGill graduate student, said in a press release. This suggests that the ability to recognize an incorrect note depends on the comparison of incoming auditory stimuli with stored motor information. “Our paper provides new evidence that motor memories play a role in improving listeners’ recognition of tones they have previously performed,” Palmer said in the release.
I didn’t even know virtual pianos existed, but this one looks pretty cool [Link fixed – LG]:
Our cure is to hum “The Girl from Ipanema” — NOT using the words.
Those tunes that won’t leave you alone are called “earworms” and we actually know how to make them.