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.)

 

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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.

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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):


In Praise of Idleness

Jordan Bates, over at his consistently interesting site Refine the Mind, takes a close look at one of the great thinker Bertrand Russell's more provocative essays: In Praise of Idleness: Bertrand Russell on the virtues of leisure.

As Russell asserts in his essay, leisure time is often tremendously productive, because our work is toward our own ends and interests. Unfortunately, we are convinced to work for others primarily by the construct of duty:

The conception of duty, speaking historically, has been a means used by the holders of power to induce others to live for the interests of their masters rather than for their own.

Bates summarizes Russell's thinking nicely, and asserts that his message is more timely than ever--especially considering the post-scarcity world we rapidly find ourselves moving into.

I find these kinds of arguments particularly compelling because I'm a musician, and making music is arguably one of the least useful and most important activities of human culture.

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Simon Rattle: among the very best we have

A long-time musical hero of mine is Simon Rattle, an extraordinary conductor, musician, communicator, and human being. A recent BBC documentary about his working life is now available on YouTube, and is quite enjoyable. If you have the time to spare, I think you'll find an hour listening to and watching Sir Simon work is time well spent. (A little bonus reading: Working with Simon Rattle has been the best music education of my life.)

Simon Rattle: the Making of a Maestro:

 

But don't take my word for it--a few samples of his wonderful work are after the jump...

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Examining the subjectivity of time in musical experiences

Composer Jonathan Berger recently penned How Music Hijacks Our Perception of Time, a delightful examination of temporal perception in music, the ways that music can suspend and dilate a moment in time and make it seem to last forever, or compress time in a way that hurtles our consciousness along with it. 

As Berger notes, 

The human brain, we have learned, adjusts and recalibrates temporal perception. Our ability to encode and decode sequential information, to integrate and segregate simultaneous signals, is fundamental to human survival. It allows us to find our place in, and navigate, our physical world. But music also demonstrates that time perception is inherently subjective—and an integral part of our lives.

In the article, he deconstructs and examines several passages from Schubert's String Quartet in C Major to consider how, exactly, a master composer--that is, one who shapes a listener's conscious experience through the temporal manipulation of pressure waves--uses music to influence our perception of time, and what expressive effect that can have.

It's a terrific, thoughtful piece with some excellent examples. Please enjoy here.