Reading List 1


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Yes, everyone has playlists. How about a good, old-fashioned book list?

Yesterday I gave a talk to our local composition seminar, I offered to post some information about my reading list of music- and culture-related books. Here are three to start with:

  • Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific RevolutionsNot a music book, but an important work that upsets the popular-myth notion that the history of scientific development is a history of linear development. He puts forth that change usually comes about as a revolutionary idea, completely breaking the mold of previously held theories. What follows is a period where other scientists accept the new idea, gathering around it and establishing it as a relatively stable truth. At some later point, other revolutionary ideas upset the new stability.
  • Marshall McLuhan, Understanding MediaAgain, not a music book, but how can one live in a media-saturated world and not take any time to examine media theory at all? McLuhan is one of the early developers of Media Theory, and attained something related to pop icon status. He coined the phrases “the medium is the message,” and “global village.”
  • Leonard B. Meyer, Music, the Arts, and IdeasMeyer’s book, originally published in 1967, can be seen as one of the early important works of postmodern aesthetics applied to music. The book is Meyer’s attempt to find pattern and rationale for the fragmented condition of 20th-century music.
  • Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of MusicAttali is an economist and political figure, and his approach to music and sound takes a radically different turn than the traditional music scholar. Starting with the fundamental definition that noise is anything that is unwanted in sound (or information), Attali describes five periods of musical history: listening, sacrificing, representing, repeating, and composing. Translated into English in 1985, Attali puts forth the last period, composing, as a prediction of a new period that combats the repetitiveness of technical reproduction and consumer society. Composing involves individuals grabbing hold of available noise, and transforming it into their own valued sound world. In a significant way, Attali predicts the significance of digital sampling and remix culture, YouTube videos, and similar practices.It should be noted that the foreword by Frederic Jameson is great. The afterword by Susan McClary, however, completely misses the point, confusing organization of sound with a particular music composition style.

Time-Wasting


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Ok, so this has nothing to do with music, but I have nowhere else to put this….

My kids have interests in electronics, robotics, and other scientific geeky stuff. (I wonder where they get that from?) So past purchases have put me on the Edmund Scientifics mailing list. This appeared in my inbox this morning.

  usbmissilelauncher.jpg

Is your 9 to 5 getting you down? Ever find yourself bored and frustrated on the job? Take control of the airspace in and around your cubicle….Use your PC to aim and launch the three foam missiles to secure your borders and defend your homecube. The missile is controlled left to right, and fired using your computer controls.

That goes on my Christmas list right now!

Remembering John Cage


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Today would have been John Cage’s 95th birthday. To help celebrate the life of a musical icon, WYNC has put together radio and web programming that offers a fittingly personal and playful view of his life.

The festival runs for 24 hours and 33 minutes (24:33, for those who enjoy puns).

"Pops" (as in concert) isn't a four-letter word


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While many symphony musicians and hard-core classical music lovers alike compare the symphonic “pops” concert to a tooth-pulling experience, and many symphony board members think that they will (somehow) be the savior of classical music, it is refreshing to come across proof that a pops concert can be fun, exciting, musically interesting, and of high musical quality.

Exhibit A: Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra performing the Bernstein “Mambo” at the BBC Proms (“Promenade Concerts” for the un-English).

Yes, it’s a youth orchestra and they sound fantastic (every bit as good as my  Baltimore Symphony version on CD).

Yes, the (large) hall is completely packed. (check when the camera pans around)

And it does appear that everyone is having fun…

Not that I’m calling out any orchestra in particular for their less-than-acceptable pops efforts.

(OK, I am, but I can’t link to them because I don’t need the headache.)

The other think that you notice is that things look good for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Verbal gaffes


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A linguist has found three “cures” for the problem of stumbling speech (um’s, er’s, pauses, etc.):

  1. Drinking (alcohol)
  2. Use short sentences
  3. Have someone threaten you with electric shock if you make a mistake.

Really, I’m not making this up. (the “cures” are in the last paragraph.)

It’s interesting that psychologists and linguists have such different views on why these verbal tics and stumbles happen. Psychologists can’t agree on whether it’s a power play (filling silent space so that no one interrupts you), or an invitation for someone else to speak. Linguists are a little less judgmental, seeing it as a result of the brain constantly switching back and forth between planning for speech and executing speech. (In other words, it’s a biological occurrence.)

Classical music is ____________


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Fill in the blank. Dead. Dying. Just fine. Who cares?
A new round of the age-old discussion about the current health, and future of classical music.

Matthew Guerrieri  has a well-done entry that relates classical music to non-functional demand curves. “Huh?” you say? It relates sociology to economics, and talks about things like the “bandwagon effect,” and the “snob effect.” He also points out that it is misleading to think of “classical music” as a single thing – that to better understand what’s going on you have to understand that classical music is really an umbrella term for many individual things.

Alex Wellsung writes about modes of listening, and touches on the importance of technology in creating a product (popular music) that is ideal for manufacturing and cultural consumption in a “bandwagon”-type of global market. I love his labeling of classical music as “slow food.” (the opposite of McDonalds…)

As always, Alex Ross picks up on the debate, and offers a few insightful additions.

Digital media blinders (or earplugs)


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Does digital sound get overlooked in the field of digital media studies? Dilan Mahendran thinks so (and so do I). Writing for the Spotlight on Digital Media Learning blog, Mahendran questions whether the dominant realm of the image devalues the cultural significance of music. Given that so many people listen to so much music, how does the realm of music escape our focus so often?

I felt compelled to comment on the blog. It’s a question that affects me personally, and many of us that try to work in “interdisciplinary”  fields of digital media, naively assuming that we enter as (close to) equals with our colleagues working in the visual domain. Of course plenty of years at BSU has disabused me of that notion. It’s just interesting to see someone taking up the topic in a higher profile setting. The Spotlight on DML blog is sponsored the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, they of the “genius” grants.

Back from an extended vacation (ha!)…


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processed_sound took a vacation this summer. Unfortunately, I didn’t take much of one.

I did manage to finish a piece (Dynamic Couplings, written for my colleague Keith Sweger) and get it performed at IDRS 2007 at Ithaca College.

Dynamic Couplings 1

I also ran across a few interesting topics during some rare reading times. Kyle Gann writes that no one has written a good narrative account of contemporary music recently. And having lived in Sweden for a year, I’m fascinated whenever anything comes up about the Eurovision Song Contest, which brought the world ABBA. Now sociologist Duncan J. Watts has investigated the role that “bloc voting” plays. While those of us in the U.S. can worry about what other countries think of us, he can prove that everyone in Europe hates Great Britain.

I’m also working on some new projects. More on that, and the above fun stuff, later.

future opera…


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Gordon Beeferman, whose Reliquary was recently heard at BSU as part of eighth blackbird’s opening-night concert, was just featured on the New York City Opera’s Vox series. The series presents excerpts from new or unperformed operas by American composers, as a sort of “tryout” with the NYC Opera Orchestra and professional singers.

Excerpts from Beeferman’s The Rat Land were performed, and the work was singled out for praise in the New York Times review by Anthony Tommasini.