Monday, 31 March 2008

A Couple of YouTube Playlists

A couple of YouTube playlists worth mentioning, both from 'Iamnogaucha.'

Playlist: Contemporary Classical Music I
Description: Here are some fine performances for your pleasure. I have included several late 19th century works that influenced subsequent musical developments. Composers are organized alphabetically by last name. Individual works are arranged in like manner. Duplicated works are organized by performer(s). This playlist will be updated and expanded from time to time. Enjoy. All credit goes to the original posters of these videos. Thanx.

Playlist: Contemporary Classical Music II
Description: Here are some composer interviews and documentaries for your pleasure. This playlist will be updated and expanded from time to time. Enjoy. All credit goes to the original posters of these videos. Thanx.

Some (of my) highlights from playlist one...

Charles Ives (Quarter-Tone pieces)
Pablo Sáinz Villegas - 1 Sequenza XI - Berio (Classical Guitar)
Messiaen - Oiseaux Exotiques - Robertson, Huebner, part 1
Varèse - Ionisation - Boulez, Ensemble InterContemporain
Eonta (part 1 of 3) [1963 - 64] by Iannis Xenakis [1922-01]

From playlist two..

A documentary on Berio from the NY Phil`s YouTube channel, here is part 1.

Don`t forget that these clips can be taken down/removed without warning, if you want to keep any of them try downloading them to your PC with a free service like

Quote Of The Day (31/03/08)

'He treats dissonance as a tonal language, complete and satisfying in itself, owing no allegiance, or even lip-service to consonance, either at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the work. It is amazing how far we can already go with him, how strangely beautiful and moving much of this music is, that, judged by the eye alone, is mere jumble of discordant parts. But it is frankly impossible for the most advanced musician to see a coherent idea running through a great deal of this music. I do not say the coherent idea is not there, but simply that at present its coherence and its veracity are not always evident. Time alone can show whether it is our harmonic sense that thinks too slowly, or Schoenberg`s harmonic sense that thinks a little too rapidly for the rest of the world.'

Earnest Newman; 'A Review [of Schoenberg`s Five Orchestral Pieces], 1914' : Birmingham Daily Post.

printed in the Dover Miniature Score of Five Orchestral Pieces.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Quote Of The Day (30/03/08)

'Shallow ideas can be assimilated; ideas that require people to reorganise their picture of the world provoke hostility. A physicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology started quoting Tolstoy: "I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread into the fabric of their lives.'

'Chaos: Making A New Science' by James Gleick.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Bulgarian Music Documentary

Ever found yourself listening to Bulgarian folk music and thinking 'Hmm, I would like to know more about this, I wonder if there are any English language documentaries available?', well, I know I have.

Thanks to the interweb this desire for more information can now be satisfied on demand, here is a British made documentary about Bulgarian music, part of a series entitled 'Rhythms of the World'.

Includes the Bulgarian supergroup, Trio Bulgarka.

Quote Of The Day (29/03/08)

'..Painting in those days was something to be talked about; at any rate, aesthetics, philosophy, reflection, taste - and politics, as I recall - felt they had a right to say something about the matter, and they applied themselves to it as if it were a duty: Piero della Francesca, Venice, Cezanne, or Braque. Silence protected music, however, preserving its insolence.'

Michel Foucault: 'Pierre Boulez, passing through the screen'; Aesthetics Vol 2, Essential works of Foucault 1954-1984.

The Pierre Boulez Project

Yes, it`s here, generously put together by someone called Josh Ronsen.

Piece Of The Week (beg:24/03/08)

Anton Webern: Symphony Op21.

I wont go on about this as the piece has been analysed and discussed a great deal by people far more qualified than me.

I will say that it is one of my favourite pieces of music. Before I got the score and started looking at the piece properly I didn`t realise that the first movement contained repeats, I thought I was hearing the row come round again (which is true, but I didn`t think it was a literal repeat, interesting effect, at least for me).

The way the pitches revolve and pass between instruments is engaging, and peaceful (in the first movement at least), it has something of the kaleidoscope about it. While it may lend itself to formal analysis it is also, more importantly, a beautiful piece of music.

The version I have is performed by the LSO, conducted by Boulez, from this boxed set.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Rhodes Works

There is never a good time, but it has to be done every now and again (tuning, fixing quiet keys and so on). Today was that day.

233 Bars To Fill

Now, what is special about that number? (answers on a postcard, winner gets a special prize, and no, it`s not just that it`s a prime number, something else about it also, though like a prime it`s not a quality unique to 233)

Quotes Of The Day (27/03/08)

The esthetics of music is not popular. Musicians suspect it of being abstract talk far removed from musical reality; the musical public fears philosophical reflections of the kind one ought to leave to the initiated, rather than plaguing one`s own mind with unnecessary philosophical difficulties.

Understandable as this mistrustful irritation with the sundry chatter of self-proclaimed music esthetics might be, it would be erroneous to imagine that esthetic problems in music are located in the hazy distance beyond everday musical matters. In fact, when viewed dispassionately, they are thoroughly tangible and immediate.

Carl Dahlhaus; The Idea of Absolute Music.

' undogmatic theory of art must recognise that the criterion of audibility, of complete realisation by perception, is not a natural law of aesthetics but a postulate of historically limited scope. By rigorously restricting the concept of music or of "music proper" to the perceptible, one curtails historic reality for the sake of dogma not older than the eighteenth century'.

Carl Dahlhaus: 'Analysis and Value Judgement'..., quoted in 'Music, Imagination and Culture': Nicholas Cook

Earliest Recording, Ever, Probably.

Thats right, earlier than Edison. The New York Times reports.

The audio historian David Giovannoni with a recently discovered phonautogram that is among the earliest sound recordings. (photo by Isabelle Trocheris)

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Quote Of The Day (26/03/08)

'How can I put it?, I have neither a vocation nor a mission, just a reason, something that I enjoy getting out of bed for in the morning. So that my life is now independent of the things that happen to me'

György Kurtág: The Matchstick Man (a film by Judit Kele)

Picture via Berliner Kunstlerprogram

I Got (Sophisticated) Rhythm

Well, not really, but the Zuni of the American Southwest have/had. On his Post Classic blog Kyle Gann discusses how this influenced his aesthetic and you can listen to a Zuni buffalo dance here.

Zuni Girl With Jar 1903

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Quote Of The Day (25/03/08)

'Perhaps mistakenly, the ancient Greeks attributed to the association of music and numbers a predominant place in the philosophy of of the cosmos. Perhaps equally mistakenly, some composers of the Forties and Fifties tried to build music entirely by numbers. But regardless of the rights and wrongs of such beliefs, there are incontrovertible mathematical facts which must be outlined, however briefly.

Other numerical data less closely associated with musical reality, but forming a basis for modern composition, are also worth a mention, even though they only demonstrate man`s subconcious awareness that there is beauty in numbers, and that they in turn can make beauty of out chaos.'

Introduction to chapter 6; 'Numbers' of The New Music: The Avant Garde since 1945 by Reginald Smith Brindle.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Quote Of The Day (24/03/08)

Michael R. Lampert : 'Does art then offer an alternative view of reality?'

David Dunn: 'Not really. I operate under the assumption that these things aren`t separate . For me the aesthetic response is what Gregory Bateson referred to when he said "beauty is the pattern that connects". I intepret that to mean the aesthetic response, the perception and apprehension of beauty, becomes a sort of resonance : we see and feel our own individuated mind expand to include something that we didn`t assume to be part of us'.

Perspectives on Musical Aesthetics: Edited by John Rahn
From The Perspectives on New Music Journal

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Xenakis` Evryali

The pianist John Mark Harris has performed Xenakis` solo piano piece 'Evryali' and made a rather natty animated graph of the work. Here is how he explains it..

Evryali was composed in 1973 and premiered by its dedicatee Marie-Fran oise Bucquet that same year in New York. The title refers to the "Medusa, with head of writing snakes", as well as "the open sea". Both allusions have clear meanings upon hearing the piece.

Evryali is the first work composed from Xenakis' idea of "arboressences". First, the composer drew shapes on a computer screen that were later realized in traditional music notation. Some lines (or branches) appear alone, while other lines grow from them, branching off on their own. The branches often become intertwined with one another, and sometimes these groups of branches, like bushes, break off into other groups. The groups of notes undergo continuous transformation and growth, and these "arboressences" create moving, expanding, and rotating acoustic shapes.

Because the published score is so phenomenally complicated, I found it impossible to have any formal or dramatic image to work with when I first decided to interpret Evryali. I began to make a simple graph of sections of the piece, which eventually grew into a graph of the entire piece.

Evryali was composed without regard to the limitations of the human anatomy, as the branching often expands beyond the range of two human hands. In more than one instance, the branching has caused bushed to appear at the extreme right and left of the keyboard, yet there are also bushes in the center of the piano. The performer must obviously edit the score. The graph I made became a tool for determining what I would leave out. I have made an edition in which the integrity of individual branches and limbs are maintained as much as possible; sometimes this necessitates the felling of other entire limbs. With any method of editing Evryali, one is forced to delete as many as half the notes in a given passage.

The music that remains, after editing, is anatomically possible. Yet the performer is left with an undertaking that can not be thought of as reasonable. The relentless repetitive motions, wide leaps, and awkward streams of chords directly challenge the pianist's need for fluid fingers and free arms. The pianist runs the risk of gazing into Medusa and freezing solid. Brute force and physical endurance are not enough to solve the difficulty. Only through the same imagination that one finds the music "possible" can one find the answer to its realization.

As one can never view Medusa directly, without cheating in the manner of Perseus, one can never hear the piece performed exactly as composed. The audience is not granted a true image of Evryali, but must, like Perseus, experience only a reflection of the monstrosity.

The piece was also realised by Steve Layton, this time via midi, you can listen here. You can also look at midi screen shots and download Steve`s midi file, nice!.

Worth mentioning here, if you missed it in one of my previous posts, you can now get a piece of software based on Xenakis` UPIC program for your home PC/Mac, it`s called HighC and the basic version is free.

Via Metafilter.

Quote Of The Day (23/03/08)

'For it is the same thing to think and to be'
(The Poem, Parmenides)

and my paraphrase

'For it is the same thing not to be and to be'


In a Universe of Void. A brief train of waves whose beginning and end coincide (nil Time), perpetually triggering off.

Nothingness reabsorbs, creates.

It is the generator of Being

Time, Causality


Iannis Xenakis: Formalised Music, Pg 260

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Beautiful Science

A one-dimensional 4-state en:cyclic cellular automaton, run for 300 steps from a random initial configuration. The ith row of the image shows the state of the automaton after i steps. The boundaries between colored regions in this diagram can be viewed as particles that move left, move right, or remain stationary, and interact with each other when they collide.

Distribution of the discrete variables θi and φi in a magnetic soliton. The transition from a nonlocalized state at N=1 (top left) to localized states at N>1 is seen.

Quote Of The Day (22/03/08)

Not really a musical statement but important none the less, perhaps.

'With our thoughts we make the world.'

Ikebana (Japanese traditional flower arrangement) was established in the Muromachi period (1333-1568). Prior to that, people had a custom of offering arranged flowers to Buddha, therefore the concept of ikebana developed into one that expresses something Buddhistic or divine. It also embraces harmony with nature.

Incidentally the film maker Hiroshi Teshigahara`s father Sofu was a famous Ikebana artist, hmm, interesting (of course it shouldn`t need mentioning that Takemitsu worked with Teshigahara, should it?)

Friday, 21 March 2008

Messiaen 2008

'Nice one' Birmingham Conservatoire (amongst others) for putting this on. The conference schedule is still to be announced but some information about concerts is available on the website.

If you cannot get to Birmingham then Monterverdi Tv are broadcasting some or all of the concerts (not specified on the site).

Music: A Mathematical Offering

A really good book about maths and music by David J. Benson, available as a free pdf, or in a more old fashioned form.

'In real life, as in group theory, operations seldom satisfy the commutative law. For example, if we put on our socks and then put on our shoes, we get a very different effect from doing it the other way round. The associative law is much more commonly satisfied'.

Intrasonus Spot Project

A new European performance based venture, the Intrasonus Spot Project.

Directed by the Italian composer Roberto Rusconi, who`s excellent string quartet 'Il Sogno di Empedocle' can be downloaded for free here, peformed by the JACK Quartet. If you think you can help or want to get involved contact the organisers on their site.

The ISP (Intrasonus Spot Project) is a central focus in our research and production management.

The goal is collecting a number of composers -basically working in the European Union- interested in creating an alternative to the “one shot” performance of their works.
In addition the ISP collective is deeply concerned about the great effort that many good performers have to dedicate to the study of new works often without having the opportunity of presenting them more than once.

Moreover, the despotic power of few “untouchable leading figures” has brought more than one artist to starve artistically and economically only because some composers are simply away from the major streams of few well known institutions.

ISP is devoted to host some composers -possibly one from every country at the beginning- who are interested in creating an Intrasonus Spot in their country. They should care for guaranteing at least one performance per year of a twin concert of ones taking place in Venice during the year.

Creating an ISP will allow to increase not only the circulation of the compositions and the performers but it will also provide the creation of an international net capable of raising new collaborations and new connections.

The further step is the creation of a net capable of transmitting through the Internet all the events and giving the chance to all the intersted people to join, download, contribute, develop and diffuse this new direction in the classical contemporary music

All the interested people are kindly invited to join the master classes and show their projects; they will be given the directions to create their local Intrasonus Spot.

Quote Of The Day (21/03/08)

'Composers are magpies. Anything that glitters is grist for their nest-building. It is not important that it be understood as a professional scientist would understand it; it is the process of sensual mediation that counts. Number series are sometimes useful, in that they afford distributions that are of compositional interest. Visual images have set pieces in motion as home oracles. You just have to be sceptical as to the predictions offered'

Brian Ferneyhough: Wiki Talk

photo: Dylan Collard, via Edition Peters.

Penderecki Interview

Free to download here, on the Composing Thoughts blog.

Part of Penderecki`s annotated score for 'Ubu Rex', found on Accuracy and Aesthetics, who obtained it via WFMU`s blog.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

A Cell For B.I.O.

The first draft plan of a piece I am writing for the Birmingham Improvisers Orchestra (BIO).

It is based on the function of a eukaryotic cell (very simplified/abstracted). Still under construction and has not been rehearsed or tried out yet (might be too complex, better suited to a fully scored piece, we`ll see).

There are five instrumental groups, from the inside out..

Alpha: Nucleus (solo trumpet, produces 'DNA' for 'repairs')
Beta: Protein Sleeve (mid range woodwind; changes 'shape' to allow 'DNA' to be 'read')
Gamma: Internal Proteins (full range woodwind/brass; respond to receptor proteins, the proteins require 'repair' from the nucleus)
Delta: Membrane/Receptor Proteins (guitars, basses, perhaps some low woodwind; pick up enviromental 'signals' and change 'shape')
Epsilon: Environmental Signals (piano, percussion, electronics; provide input for the overall system)

Left to do is to work out exactly what Alpha and Epsilon should be. The environmental signals will be based on recursive/fractal ideas but with some probabilities involved, (stochastic), i.e. like 'nature', probably (may use an L-system or some 'grammar' too).

The 'DNA' on the draft above is a 12-tone row (I thought that at first just using the full chromatic would be good enough), however fairly soon I realised that it should be (of course) 23 pairs of notes or 22 pairs and two remainders, or maybe just a straight 46 (like chromosomes). So instead I will use a sieve or non-octave scale/sequence.

The contrast here is that the environmenal signals are structured to some extent (pitches and beats/groups) but are in general quite free/stochastic/chaotic, whereas the DNA sequence is more deterministic (more or less, the player will have some freedom in terms of durations and dynamics but the pitch order is fixed).

The piano will play the major 'outside' role (calculated harmonies and note groupings, free duration, dynamics and choice of sections) while the solo trumpet will be the internal motor so to speak (repairing the internal proteins when they have 'run down').

The other environmental signals like the percussion will play in groups of notes based on fibonacci sequences (1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,...) or something similar (golden strings perhaps or something based on a stochastic L-system).

This element will not need scoring really, only requires basic counting (with each player using different but related numbers perhaps)

All of the 'proteins' (most of the musicians) will improvise freely around the material provided (that which applies to them, so the receptors will respond to the signals, the sleeve and the internal proteins to both the signals and DNA, using their ears to mimic and develop the musical ideas)

It should be quite simple to play for the musicians and to understand for the audience (the audience should see the progress from the outside in and back out again and should be able to hear the difference in the two types of inputs, 'signals' and the 'DNA' sequence)

Only the pianist (signal) and the solo trumpeter (DNA) will need to be able to 'read' (and only loosely, mostly to specify pitches/harmonies)

Each musician has clear and simple instructions around which he/she can improvise, this aggregates into a larger unit (the cell, which is more complicated to explain in the abstract, see above)

It probably sounds more complex/difficult than it will actually sound (hopefully anyway, like a computer is complicated but easy to use).

I have other scores for improvising orchestras on the way based on various linear types of processes/events, will see how this one goes first.

All this is copyrighted by me (Edward Lawes), from now (well, from about 3 months ago actually). If Celine Dion does a version and makes millions I want in.

[p.s. any biologists who may be reading this, please feel free to comment if you think I have got the cell structure and function totally wrong, I dont mind if it is a simplied abstract version of a cell but I dont want it to be completely inaccurate or misleading etc, that would be silly]

Juxtapositions Documentary Series

A fine series of documentaries from Ideale Audience International.

Ive seen the Stravinsky and Schoenberg one (Final Chorale/5 Pieces for Orchestra) and I will experience the Messiaen, Boulez and Kurtag/Eötvös soon (the Pierre Henry looks interesting also, next time Gadget, next time).

You can watch excerpts here (most of them anyway, some of the new ones have not been uploaded yet).

Different Waters

Great site for out of print, deleted and non-commerical albums free to download, all sorts of genres (improvised, contemporary, non-western, etc)

Piece of the Week (beg: 17/03/08)

This week`s piece is Pierre Boulez`s fantastic Domaines, performed by the Musique Vivante Ensemble and conducted by Diego Masson.

Why?, because of the splendid clarinet writing, those incredible brass figures near the beginning and the overall form of the piece with its domains or regions of instrumentation (and their relation the clarinet part). Also it`s a bargain on CD at only £.4.99 (ish).

The clarinet soloist is Michel Portal, you can read an interview with him if you like.

Also you can see Portal playing some jazz here, and you can watch Boulez on the Charlie Rose show.

Plus, Boulez will be at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham on the 10th of May 2008...

On a rare visit to Birmingham, one of the great figures of post-war classical music Pierre Boulez conducts an informal open rehearsal of Igor Stravinsky’s
Dumbarton Oaks as part of Birmingham’s IgorFest. This session will include conversation and discussion between Boulez and acclaimed author and commentator on music Paul Griffiths. This is an extraordinary and unmissable opportunity to hear one great artist’s insights into the work of another seminal figure of the 20th century.

This event is part of 'Boulez in Birmingham', a celebration of Pierre Boulez, during which he will receive an Honorary Doctorate from Birmingham City University / Birmingham Conservatoire.

Sat 10th May 2008, 10:30am

Pierre Boulez durante una conferencia en el Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruselas (Bélgica), el 25 de octubre de 2004.

Ross Does The Rounds

Seen all over the interweb New Yorker music critic and author Alex Ross discusses his book 'The Rest is Noise' in various places..

At Google, with Charlie Rose, with the Guardian, on BBC Radio3`s Music Matters programme and an AmazonWire podcast.

Whatever you think of his specific musical biases/tastes he is an effective propagandist for 20th century music (70,000 copies sold says so, I have not read any of them, might do when it comes out on paperback)

[Correction: it may already be out on paperback but it is out of stock on Amazon and cant find it on other sites]

Quote of The Day (20/03/08)

'Anyone who does not make his own rules is an ass'

Edgard Varèse (in interview 1926)
Varèse: Astronomer in Sound, Malcolm Macdonald.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Sieves and Clocks

After reading Formalised Music by Xenakis, and the book 'Conversations with Xenakis' by Varga I have added some concepts/principles to my usual mod12 set based method, basically not observing the octave all the time (as Xenakis does with 'sieves', which is a similar to Interval String Theory in basic terms). Also I have applied the proportions to rhythm/duration (producing four rows/cells'). The original set is based on one from another ongoing composition of mine (using forte prime 4-16). Will explain this more if it works out/sounds 'good'.

New Arrivals

Varese: Astronomer in Sound; Malcom Macdonald (cheesy title, arrived this morning)

Also recently arrived..

The Music of Morton Feldman: Thomas DeLio

Waiting for..

Give my Regards To Eighth Street: Morton Feldman
Thesaurus of Scales and Patterns: Nicholas Slonimsky
The Jazz Theory Book: Mark Levine (about time, should have bought this years ago, missed the boat really but still worth having for reference)

Elliott Carter and The Grateful Dead

Curious how Elliott Carter, one of our most venerable composers of music for the concert hall, and Phil Lesh, best known as the bass player for the Grateful Dead, ever crossed paths? Though you might not ordinarily connect these two composers, there are some surprising musical links between them, supported by a friendship of many years.

Photo by Jeffrey Herman

Quote of the Day (19/03/08)

Stravinsky wrote Les Noces while staying in a small village in Switzerland. His friend and collaborator C.F. Ramuz, describing the house in which the composer lived, records...

' Stravinsky turned one of the attic rooms into a studio, reached by a half hidden wooden staircase well barricaded by doors, and how of a summer afternoon the sound of the composer at his piano and percussion instruments could be heard in the little square outside, where two or three women were usually to be found on a bench, knitting in the shade of the trees. These would raise their heads for a moment in bewilderment, and then with an indulgent "C`est le monsieur russe!" resume their knitting'

Music, Imagination and Culture: Nicholas Cook

A Collective of Space

A gallery of quotes, images, links and all manner of interesting things at the Space Collective site.

Density Cobbles 3: by Dave Bollinger

By Paul Bourke.

"I wonder whether fractal images are not touching the very structure of our brains. Is there a clue in the infinitely regressing character of such images that illuminates our perception of art? Could it be that a fractal image is of such extraordinary richness, that it is bound to resonate with our neuronal circuits and stimulate the pleasure I infer we all feel?"
(P. W. Atkins)

New Sounds For Flute

A fine resource of extended flute techniques from Swedish flautist Mats Möller.

SOLO PER FLAUTO (SFZ 2001, 2000) 154' (2 cds)

An exposé through the world of 20th century music for flute alone, focusing on Swedish music - from Debussy (Syrinx, 1913) to Deák (Fuvola, 2000). Cantilenas and subtleness, as well as virtuosity and new techniques for the instrument, developed from the 70's and on.

Swedish flautist Mats Möller plays music by Debussy, Varèse, Jolivet, Bäck, Scelsi, Berio, Rosenberg, Ferneyhough, Takemitsu, Tiensuu, Morthenson, Grims-land, Nilsson, Welin, Eliasson, Sagvik, Karkoff, Maros, Möller and Deák.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Quote of The Day (18/03/08)

' the instinctive or conscious reaction of art to ideas which have sunk to the level of ideology........Abstract art is not art without content, but art which protests, by withdrawing itself, against content which has sunk to the level of ideology. It performs its socio-critical function, whether or not the individual artist creating abstract works of art is aware of this, or whether he feels himself to be solely an artist'

Alfred Andersch; Quoted by Carl Dahlhaus in 'Schoenberg and the New Music'.

Paul Lansky: Being and Going

Composer and Princeton Music Prof. Paul Lanksy presents an useful distinction in this essay...(for George Perle`s 80th birthday)

Rather than distinguish between 'tonal' and 'atonal', or between 'diatonic' and 'dodecaphonic', I am going to look at music in terms of two concepts, which I will call implication and reference. These are not mutually exclusive and generally interact in different ways, creating threads of understanding and perception.

Incidentally , some years ago I was after a copy of his excellent piece 'Six Fantasies on a Poem by Thomas Campion' but it was out of print.

I emailed Paul and asked if it was available, he replied saying there was some sort of legal issue with it (copyright or contract or something boring/annoying like that), so he sent me a copy for free! (In return I sent him a copy of my 2004 album 14 Tracks/Pieces about which he had some useful comments, more about that another time).

Monday, 17 March 2008

Quotes of The Day (17/03/08)

Yes, not just one today...

'And so they handed down to us clear knowledge of the speed of the heavenly bodies and their risings and settings, of geometry, numbers and, not least, of the science of music. For these sciences seem to be related.'

Archytas of Tarentum, Early Fourth Century BC

'Music is the arithmetic of sounds as optics is the geometry of light'

Claude Debussy c.1900

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals

Bartok's Sections

An interesting post by Kyle Gann on his blog asks why Bartok put timings on sections of his scores...

Joseph Szigeti asked Bartok about it, and he evidently replied, "It isn't as if I said: 'This must take six minutes, 22 seconds...' but I simply go on record that when I play it the duration is six minutes, 22 seconds."

The commenters (including myself) speculate on why this might be, then (of course) mention of the 'golden section' appears. I replied [ive edited it a bit and improved the typesetting, could not use html on that blog interface for some reason]


...Re the golden section, all the analysis I have read either says nothing about it (Elliot Antokoletz: The Music of Bela Bartok...its a been a few years since i read it but I dont remember any reference to golden ratios etc, nor in George Perle's analysis, though most of that is harmonic, still, the 'theory' should hold, harmony is proportion too) or evidence is presented to the contrary..

'..Musicologists such as Lazlo Somfai have debunked this notion. Somfai inspected "the complete existing source material of Bartok`s compositions as well as manuscripts of folk-music transcriptions, drafts of articles, and scattered scrap papers in the Hungarian and American estate.".

He observed that "not a single calculation of the proportions of a composition - with Fibonacci or other numbers - has been discovered," despite "the composers notorious lifelong habit of keeping and recycling every bit of paper." But the legend still lingers.

The idea of a Bartok-Fibonacci connection traces to the musicologist Erno Lendvai.

In his writings, he presented many examples from Bartok`s works, purporting to show how Bartok suffused that music.

Interestingly, even Lendvai stopped just short of claiming that Bartok deliberately used Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio as compostional devices.

Rather Lendvai wrote, "I have no wish to prove that he aspired to an arithmetic or geometric system; he did, however, by going back to the roots of music, discover fundamental laws and "root" correlations which may be expressed by formula-like mathematical symbols".

The legend has since expanded to that of Bartok, the numerological composer.'

The Math Behind The Music: Leon Harkleroad

Harkleroad goes on to say that Lendvai basically shoehorned in connections to the golden section.

His six volume piano collection Mikrokosmos alone consists of 150 pieces. With such a body of music it would be miraculous if you could`nt find several instances in which the count for something or other turned out as a Fibonacci number or two counts stood approximately in golden ratio'

It seems this Fibonacci stuff is mythological, or perhaps more generously, has not been established, yet (a lack of evidence).

Kyle replied..

KG replies: Thanks for the update, I'd been wondering what current thinking has been. Although I must say, the third movement of the Sonata for 2P + P confirms frighteningly well to the GS hypothesis.

More 'Art' From Elsewhere

This is an update to my previous post on 'abstraction' and 'formalism' from history and other cultures. One thing I should stress is that our western definitions of 'art' and 'abstraction' and 'formalism' are not a good fit with prehistoric artefacts and objects/'art' from other cultures. We should resist inferring a 'universal aesthetic', that these other cultures saw these artefacts as we do (though we cannot in my opinion rule it out in some absolute sense, i.e. perhaps in patterns/forms have an appeal of some sort while also serving a specific social function?).

Using 'African art' and its definition as such by Europeans as an example...

There was little need to understand the culture from which a piece came if one could appreciate the object on purely formal grounds. If one could speak, as both collectors and dealers did, of a "universal aesthetic," then the specifics of the object could be ignored......the notion of a purely formalist or universal aesthetic was foreign to African society of the time (as it was, indeed, to most societies). While sculptural traditions certainly reflected local judgement and taste - a local aesthetic, that is - they also, often to a far greater extent, reflected concerns about ritual or spiritual efficacy. Also key were assessments based on an object`s ability to express the status of the owner.... Taken out of its context, by a George or a Guillaume, the object-as-art could not be evaluated by the standards of its makers or original users.

...Recent studies in the fields of art criticism and art history reject the idea of a univeral aesthetic. Michele Coquet argues that art historians should study local or culturally specific aesthetics "Every culture has its own conceptions of what is beautiful and what is ugly - conceptions which are tied to a whole range of culture-specific images and experiences....Views of what is beautiful and what is not must be considered in terms of the broader cultural frameworks within which they appear"

"African art" as a category consisting of objects taken outside their historical and cultural context is a product of the colonial encounter....To circumvent this situation the disipline of African art history needs to be reinvented....

In Diawara`s words, "moving away from the primacy of the aesthetic to work in greater depth on historical and anthropological aspects has become essential."

Is There Such a Thing as African Art?, by Peter Mark
Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University.

Both aspects are worth considering, the social functions of these objects/works in their proper context and their aesthetic appeal or form, i.e. this work still looks 'nice' to us and informs our art, it is a translation of some sort. Consider African textiles (a good place to find what we would call abstract patterns)...

A priest told Henry Drewal that the cloths, with their richly decorated weft-float patterns, symbolize 'long lives well lived,' in sharp contrast to the plain white cloths the Ijebu Yoruba are said to wear when they first come into the world. Thus the patterns and colors represent the richness and diversity of an individual`s experience in life, including acquired knowledge of the spirit realm (Drewal, pers. com 1991)

..Another design symbolizes the drums (gbedu) played to honor kings, lesser crowned rulers, and chiefs. Actual drums are emblazoned with references to office in decorations carved in relief on their sides; these include the central image of a head with rays emanating from above and below as well as other Oshugbo or chieftaincy-related objects such as the itagbe title cloth.

As a pattern on cloth, the gbedu is shown as a diamond shape, representing the head of the drum, with its four legs extending outward. The inclusion of legs in the design distinguishes it from representations of other drum types because gbedu are always carved with leg supports. The Yoruba usually describe this drum in anthropomorphic terms. Like humans it has 'legs' and the power to 'speak' (Adegbite 1988:16-19).

A type of talking drum known as gangan is represented by small repeated triangles that surround the overall design. These triangles suggest not the shape of the drum but the actual tapping of it, a rare example of the visual conceptualization of music in African art.

Ijebu Yoruba "Aso Olona": A Contextual and Historical Overview, by Lisa Aronson

Robert Farris-Thompson (1983:207) describes such patterns as a visualization of "the famed off-beat phrasing of melodic accents in African music," noting that indigenous terminology used to describe these strip cloth weavings makes explicit use of musical analogies. Jola musicians in the Casamance region of Senegal also report striking indigenous terminology, distinguishing between oscillation ("owowogene," which applies to both instrument strings and the way that plam trees sway in the wind), resonance ("ebissa," in which a plucked string can cause a nearby string tuned in harmony to vibrate), and pitch.

Being a music blog, how about a brief mp3 of some African polyrhythms? (though they may not have called them that of course, see above ;-)

Anonymous African Polyrhythm MP3 (O`Keefe Library)


While I`m at it, how about some more examples of 'prehistoric art'?.

Among the most remarkable finds from the 75 000 year old levels at BBC (Blombos Cave) are two engraved ochre plaques. Chunks of ochre were selected and carefully ground by rubbing to produce a flat surface and deliberate abstract designs were then engraved on these surfaces using a sharp stone tool. The criss-cross patterns formed are almost certainly symbolic and the meaning behind the designs made by the maker(s) must surely have been understood by community members.
We are unable to precisely determine what these designs mean as the thought processes of people who lived that long ago are not easily accessible through only their material culture. There is considerable debate as to whether these designs can be called 'art' but the jury is still out.

Shown is a painted and incised 'chequerboard' pattern found in Lascaux, dated 15,000-12,000 BC. This is a "very rare example in Ice Age art on an abstraction constituting the whole picture on its own." (Andreas Lommel in 'Prehistoric and Primitive Man'). A link is made between magic traps found in other panels where they accompany animals, such as in the picture below. Of course, we do not know what it means. For all we know it might be the first dart-board.