Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Listen To This has just been released, and, in what the author should take as a mark of the esteem in which I hold him, I have changed my Amazon ‘address’ from Europe to the U.S. specifically so that I can download the Kindle version of his book, which (of course) is not available in the E.U. ‘for copyright reasons’. The first chapter was published online as an essay a few years back, and is worth reading (again, Readability is suggested):

For at least a century, the music has been captive to a cult of mediocre élitism that tries to manufacture self-esteem by clutching at empty formulas of intellectual superiority. Consider some of the rival names in circulation: “art” music, “serious” music, “great” music, “good” music. Yes, the music can be great and serious; but greatness and seriousness are not its defining characteristics. It can also be stupid, vulgar, and insane. Music is too personal a medium to support an absolute hierarchy of values. The best music is music that persuades us that there is no other music in the world. This morning, for me, it was Sibelius’s Fifth; late last night, Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”; tomorrow, it may be something entirely new. I can’t rank my favorite music any more than I can rank my memories. Yet some discerning souls believe that the music should be marketed as a luxury good, one that supplants an inferior popular product. They say, in effect, “The music you love is trash. Listen instead to our great, arty music.” They gesture toward the heavens, but they speak the language of high-end real estate. They are making little headway with the unconverted because they have forgotten to define the music as something worth loving. If it is worth loving, it must be great; no more need be said.


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Tonematrix by André Michelle is a function defined on the two-dimensional vector space over the field \mathbb{Z}_{17}. And yet, it’s so much more; though self-explanatory, it might save you three seconds to know that the axes correspond to time and pitch, with the latter staggered non-linearly to prevent dissonance. It seems possible that Tokyo / Vermont Counterpoint could be produced directly from this tool if the latter were extended further in time.

A more interesting challenge would be to create a devolution from the audio to tonematrix form. I claim such reverse engineering, followed by a Fourier transform to draw out the particular periodicities in frequency and time, can be used to generate an infinte family of pleasant sounding meanderings of arbitrary length. I would also like to consider the possibility of randomly placing and removing structures on the map at different positions: most of the early random and fractal music was interesting but sounded very much like garbage, whereas by forcing tonality on the output, tonematrix minimises the potential for something awful.

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Most people sound like better singers inside their own heads than they do to others. This is mostly because the perception of a voice sounding rich has a lot to do with the presence of high harmonics above the fundamental frequency of the note – pretty much the same reason why a banjo sounds different to a clarinet, which sounds different to a steel drum, even if they’re all playing the same note.

Unfortunately, it turns out that having to travel through the air en route to a listener’s eardrum is bad news for these harmonics. They travel much better (i.e. are attenuated less) through other media, such as bone. Hence why people sound better in their own heads – a lot of the sound waves they’re picking up went through their body, not through the air. While practising this morning I found a way to increase this effect, and thus instantly become a better singer. The catch is that nobody else will notice. 🙂

Take both hands and use your index and middle fingers to push back your ears, gently but firmly, until they touch your head. Let your palms rest about an inch from your cheeks. Sound better? This helps in a few ways. Sound travelling down your arms is redirected to your ears, where it is needed. Another is that your ears can pick up extra vibrations from your head. Finally, sound exiting your mouth is picked up by your hands and reflected through the air, as well as travelling up your arms to your ears. After some preliminary experimentation using different positions and so on, I think the most important factor is the palms.


P.S. If I’ve made any acoustics blunders please let me know.

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First, via The Beat, it transpires that Matt Groening drew wryly from the title of the Turangalîla-Symphonie when naming Futurama’s (Turanga) Leela. Minus one point from Berian for having been insufficiently attentive to spot that himself.

Perhaps more seriously, the Fredösphere recently excerpted transcripts from the Nixon administration:

— On May 18, 1972, Nixon talks to Henry Kissinger about the National Security Adviser’s meeting with Ivy League composers regarding Messiaen’s oratorio La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ:

NIXON: “The Ivy League composers? Why, I’ll never let those sons-of-b—— in the White House again. Never, never, never. They’re finished. The Ivy League schools are finished … Henry, I would never have had them in. Don’t do that again … They came out against La Transfiguration when it was tough … Don’t ever go to an Ivy League school again, ever. Never, never, never.”

Apparently the interest in Messiaen was sustained over a number of years, so that would be not so much Nixon in China as just Nixon in the White House. One last non-Messiaen note of pleasure is directed toward the publication of the score for Pärt’s Fourth Symphony (‘Los Angeles’) through an extremely fancy online viewer, in advance of its first performance, which is this Saturday in the eponymous City of Angels. I will have to content myself with reading reviews of it for now.

(Generic hat tip to Alex Ross, who has more than earned a place on the blogroll.)

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Via a gmail status message of O. X. Dive, a modular implementation of those Himalayas of engineering, the Great Ball Contraption:

There is (a non-lego) one in the Questacon at the Parliamentary Triangle and it was definitely one of my favourite exhibits as a young enthusiast of science and symmetry, along with (for different reasons, of course) the Tesla Coil and the Jacob’s Ladder. The music, performed by the Balanescu Quartet, is a cover of Kraftwerk’s Robots.

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Thirty-second iTunes samples for hour-long minimalist compositions. Thanks, chumps.

Music With Changing Parts

Later on, that is.

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Via O. X. Dive comes the following short feature:


I saw Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes a little while back at the Steve Reich Evening dance performance at the Edinburgh Festival. Another intriguing offering was used as an opener: a drum speaker is placed face up in the centre of the stage with two microphones suspended as pendula above it. The performers draw the microphones toward the horizontal and, after switching them on, let go. They produce two different frequencies of feedback buzz as they pass over the speaker; starting out in phase they diverge based on slight differences in initial conditions and the work lasts until both microphones have returned to rest.

Both this work and the Poème Symphonique test the patience of the audience a little. One has understood the idea after only a short time, and the rest of the piece is spent exploring the aural variations that emerge, which becomes tiresome once one’s concentration is exhausted. G. R. Mamatsashvili, with whom I attended the Steve Reich Evening, lent across to me at one point during the work and remarked, not really whispering, “Berian, they are trying to hypnotise us.” Indeed.

I look forward, therefore, to our one day attending a performance of Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2.

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So I am thinking that Steve Reich’s Electric Guitar Phase would be a great mobile ringtone, especially if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t answer their phone without it ringing for about fifteen minutes.

Electric Guitar Phase Fragment I

No, seriously, what I actually mean is that it would make a good ringtone if the phone picked a random starting point during the work each time the phone rang. Of course this could work with any song, but EGP is an especially good example because it relatively glacial rate-of-variation draws attention to temporal location more obviously than the usual verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus structure. Here’s another snap from near the three-minute mark (n.b. the difference in phase and also the exciting introduction of another guitar!):

Electric Guitar Phase Fragment II

Obviously, the phone needs to pick a point more than, say, twenty seconds from the end of the piece and perhaps there is a way to select particularly complete regions, e.g. by starting at a point where the waveform is close to silent (representing a pre- or post-chorus break, or the end of a motif, or something like that).

Maybe phones do this already? I am not ahead of the curve on this particular matter.

Also: Terry Riley’s The Book of Abbeyozzud is really superb; especially La Muerte en Medias Caladas Negras.

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