Some context for today: you're going to die

Not to be morbid, but I watch this video at least once per year, if not more often. It reminds me of the unavoidable, inevitable context of my life: that it is temporary, that I am a phenomenon and not a thing, and that one day I will experience the end of myself. 

I find the poem, and the gravelly, matter-of-fact delivery of the narrator, to be immensely comforting. It helps me to spend my time and energy wisely, and to remember what truly matters in life.

The poem is by Timothy Furstnau, the film directed by Dennis Palazzolo and narrated by Vito Acconci:

If you prefer your unflinching life perspective with a little more Shatner, try this.

Why We Should Teach Music History Backwards

THIS. One of the clear weaknesses of contemporary music education in the U.S. at all levels, up through graduate school, is that it does not typically proceed from existing musical interests or contemporary cultural contexts into more detailed and less familiar territory. (There are notable exceptions.) This principle seems essential to me in music education, or any areas of study and work that are strongly connected to cultural practice.

Geoffrey Himes illustrates one way this principle can be applied in his delightful article "Why We Should Teach Music History Backwards." Seriously, this article makes me want to start writing a reverse music history curriculum that would start with contemporary music surveys (popular, concert, movie and game scores, all of it) and work backwards in time, which I think could be fascinating. Call it the "Where Did This Come From?" approach.

(I do realize that this would require a fundamental shift of values in the musical world on all sides, from ones that originate from judgments about means and modes of musical creation to values that emerge from engagement with contemporary cultural practices as they are found. I'm also aware that such a paradigm shift would take over a generation. But, you know, the second best time to plant a tree is now.)

Jonathan Newman talks about his symphony

This episode is a conversation with composer Jonathan Newman, about his Symphony No. 1 "My Hands Are A City."  We also discuss his inspiration from Beat culture, composing symphonies in general, and more. It's an interesting peek into a brilliant piece of music from a keen creative mind.

If you enjoy the episode, you can listen to the recording of the symphony we made while Jonathan was visiting a few years ago, and watch videos of that performance as well as some fun outreach we added to the mix. (Teaser: some very conservative listeners were enthusiastically in love with JN and his symphony by the time we were done.) 

Funklet: learn great drumming by visualizing the greats

Somehow I stumbled on Funklet, this great site for teaching drum set by analyzing and playing along with the very best drummers, and also by rendering what they do as dynamic patterns. The patterns also allow you to select which aspects of each drum track you want to hear.

The site is curated by Jack Stratton and features some really terrific selections, even if you are not a drummer and don't need to practice. The visualized, interactive pattern format allows you to hear some of the great drum tracks with some detail. Personal favorites include Stevie Wonder, ?uestlove, Clyde Stubblefield, and Bernard Purdie. I've especially enjoyed picking apart some of these drum set parts and then listening to the original full recordings they're from, to hear them in context. Makes for much more vivid listening.

Visualizing the expressive impact of harmonic function

A great animation showing expressive reaction to harmonic progressions in Mozart's "Lacrymosa," from the Requiem (K. 626). (N.B.: the animator of the video for some reason doesn't believe in lower case Roman numerals for minor chords--I know, right?--and also mis-identifies just a few harmonies, but it's nevertheless delightful to watch.)


You'll find links to more, similar videos here.

Seminal writings about music, pt. 1: Reich, Music as a Gradual Process

Writing about music is hard. It is, as someone famously said, like dancing about architecture, or, as the New Republic published in 1918:

Strictly considered, writing about music is as illogical as singing about economics. All the other arts can be talked about in the terms of ordinary life and experience. A poem, a statue, a painting or a play is a representation of somebody or something, and can be measurably described (the purely aesthetic values aside) by describing what it represents.

If words could produce the effect that music does, if we could express what music allows us to express using text or speech or image instead, we probably would. Music is difficult and complex and abstract and temporal so you have to really pay attention and listen actively and lots of stuff that it's frankly easier to get people to do using words or images but those things can't do what music does, so we music instead despite those rather distinct properties.

Continue reading "Seminal writings about music, pt. 1: Reich, Music as a Gradual Process" »

The anatomy of the internet

For something that pervades our lives like the internet does, I find that I'm not really aware of how it works, in a literal sense, and how it developed. Vox offers 40 maps that explain the internet, and I found it very enlightening and informative.

As issues about the internet become more politically prominent and important (e.g., net neutrality, privacy), understanding what the internet is, how it came to be, and how it works in a basic sense is increasingly essential knowledge for any informed citizen.

Music in the Middle

In this episode, we take a look at music in the middle, that is, music that authentically and substantially bridges disparate musical styles, or combines unrelated sound worlds, or borrows ideas from one mode of musical creation and applies them to another. Examples are many and varied, and I have a strong suspicion lots of listeners will find something new and interesting to listen to.

Examples for this episode, with links to acquire them should your interest be piqued (and it should be, because these were some fun examples):