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.


Cultural history and preservation by recording

As is much discussed on this site, one of the most interesting aspects of music and musical culture is that it is temporal and incorporeal; it is one of music's greatest and worst qualities. So much can be lost when sounds are passed from generation to generation, and only in the tiniest recent sliver of human history have we been able to capture those sounds and preserve them, in direct and (if desired) unmediated ways through sound recording.

Early in the history of recording technology, a few pioneers realized the technology's importance for documenting and preserving musical and aural culture. Foremost among these early musicologists is Alan Lomax (also a field collector, folklorist, archivist, filmmaker, scholar, etc.), who recognized not just the immense value of folk music but of recording it, and began traveling to do so in the early 1930s. His contributions to our cultural history and preservation are enormous.

Amazingly, his entire archive is available online, free of charge. It is huge and amazing, and features recordings of concerts, social gatherings, worship services, street criers, interviews, and more. I had a hard time choosing even just a few samples to incite your curiosity.

This NPR piece is a great place to begin acquainting yourself with this veritable trove of music and people and the many delightful ways we use sound expressively.

Alan Watts: the guru you didn't know you needed

No, seriously: reading and listening to Alan Watts might just change your life. Well...not your life, per se, but it could definitely change you in some important and fundamental ways, and that would lead to changes in your life.

I could proselytize about this remarkable and wise thinker at length, but instead I'll let him speak for himself and just share a few short samples of his thinking (animated by Trey Parker & Matt Stone; reading recommendations below).

Life and Music:


I (the illusion of ego):


Continue reading "Alan Watts: the guru you didn't know you needed" »

More posts coming your way....

As our regular visitors know, this site has two main areas of content: the podcast and the blog. The podcast is, of course, episodic audio content, and since the beginning of this year, most of my energy has been focused on rebooting the podcast and getting a weekly (or near-weekly) production schedule up and running.

We're getting closer with that (seriously, check out the great new episodes), but while that work has been happening, I've neglected the blog side of the site. That part of the site is just posts like this, found either on the home page or in the site archives. The posts vary widely in content: often they're just links to interesting, thought-provoking, funny, or otherwise notable content I've found online and want to share with you; sometimes, these posts are essays, listening comparisons, and other original commentary and content by me or one of my very thoughtful and talented collaborators. Mostly they're about music, but not always.

So if you're new or if you've fallen out of the habit of checking the site regularly, please check back more often and you'll be rewarded. You can subscribe to the blog here and to the podcast via iTunes or Soundcloud. Thanks for your continued support!

Exploring Timbre

We cover a lot of ground in this episode about timbre, the character or quality of musical sound and the human voice: what it is, how it's produced and manipulated, and what effect that has on us human beings--in short, what it means

The conversation starts with a general discussion and then focuses on the human voice and electronic synthesis, each of which demonstrates basic and essential aspects of timbre. It's a fascinating look at something we are all geniuses at using, understanding, and responding to, but don't often consider closely or carefully. 

We use some really cool musical excerpts as interstitials, each of which illustrates some aspect of the discussion and are listed below. And don't forget, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud.


The music excerpts--which were all awesome, right?--and links to acquire them:

Inspire, Imitate, Steal: the spectrum of musical copying

In this episode we talk about musical inspiration, imitation, and theft: what's the difference? how does it happen and what does it sound like? is it good, bad, or both?

Using the "Blurred Lines" controversy as a starting point, we listen to a wide range of examples that show some of the differences among inspiration, imitation, and copying, and discuss how all three are often integral in a culturally collaborative creative medium like music.

(As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud!)


Is Challenging Music Worth the Effort?

This episode examines why challenging music is often worth the effort. We discuss the different kinds of listening experiences that idiosyncratic music--sometimes complex, sometimes simple--can offer, and delve into the sound worlds of three very remarkable pieces of music:


From Sound to Signal to Sound

We live in a world absolutely saturated with technologically mediated sound. Whether by recording or amplification or transmission and broadcast, for over 150 years now sound has been captured by technology. This episode looks at how, exactly, that happens, in a casual conversation about how sounds--especially musical sounds--are literally produced, how they are turned into signal and information, and how they are turned back into sound.

It's an enlightening look into processes that we all use, depend upon, and enjoy every day.


Interstitial music clips for this episode:

Stylistic Transformation: How Blues evolved into Funk

How does one musical style or idiom become something else? What does it sound like when musical ideas are actively in collaboration within a culture? 

In this episode we take a look at American blues music, and how it evolved through the 20th century from folk blues all the way to a seminal new style, funk. The conversation also touches on the emergence and development of recorded music, along with social issues that are part of the story, too.

From Blues to Funk

Flashback: Interview with composer John Mackey (2005)

This episode of the podcast is a repost of our very first episode, from way back in 2005! The site was brand new and composer John Mackey was just about to become one of the most performed composers around. He was kind enough to sit down and talk about his origins as a composer, his creative process, musical enthusiasms, and much more. It's a fun conversation, and a terrific snapshot of a composer on the verge of tremendous professional success.

(Seriously, John has written some wonderful music since then. Go and listen to some of it!)

Enjoying Musical Hooks

A lively podcast episode about musical hooks--what they are, why they work--that ranges far and wide. My favorite moment is when Dustin juxtaposes "Sexyback" with Ligeti, to great effect. It's a perfect example of the connections a loose filter helps you make.


So just how formulaic IS pop country, anyway?

Every time conversations about musical taste and listening preferences happen around me, it's a fun and lively conversation, with people sharing all sorts of interesting and eclectic affections (it's the internet age, after all). But one caveat is almost universal, and I bet many of you have heard some version of this more than once:

"Oh I listen to almost anything, I like all kinds of music....except COUNTRY. Ugh."

(Sometimes "rap" is added to that, but far less often since I've lived in California. Californians love us some hip hop.)

This is always amusing to me, because I detest pop country, too--but not because I don't enjoy the style or the tradition. Some great Johnny Cash or Hank Williams or Patsy Cline is wonderful, and I looove neo-bluegrass bands like the Punch Brothers, but the current, mainstream manifestation of the style has, for years now, seemed really shallow and repetitive.

And now I know it's not just me. In the hilarious mash-up below, Youtube user Sir Mashalot combines SIX big recent pop country songs (#1 songs from 2012, 2013, and 2014, along with three big 2014 hits) to demonstrate just how formulaic things have become in this style. Scathingly revealing, and beautifully done:


Now, if someone would do this with all these Max Martin pop hits we keep hearing.....

Some of the best new music for your listening pleasure

One of the questions I'm most often asked as a musician is, where do you find good new music to listen to? The tricky part of that question is, of course, the "good" part--it's easy to find new stuff, but who has time to sort through all the mediocre-to-bad stuff to find what's worthwhile?

Fortunately, some folks are consistently seeking in their listening, and they help the rest of us by acting as pre-screeners. You can find these year-end, best-of lists all over the place currently, but I wanted to share just two I found quite worthwhile.

First is Q2 Music's 2014 New Music Countdown. Q2 (WQXR on the radio) teamed with NPR Classical to poll listeners on the 100 greatest composed concert works of the past 100 years. Many favorites are of course missing (only 100??) but this is a pretty darn good list, especially if you may be intrigued by more contemporary concert music but have no idea where to start.  

Second is a question on the always-terrific AskMetafilter: Can you point me towards some 2014 'best-of' musical playlists? So many great answers, many linked to Spotify playlists, so your gratification can be appropriately immediate. These answers center around songs and popular musical styles, and it's terrific to have some help in finding what's good. (Especially when one considers Sturgeon's Law.)

Bonus link, from this past summer: four young songwriters you should be listening to.

The Loose Filter 10-Year (!) Rejuvenation

Surprisingly, the Loose Filter Project will soon have been online for TEN YEARS, which is, like, 147 in internet years. To celebrate our tenth anniversary, we've given the site an overdue redesign and the content new focus:

    • Monthly, look for a longer podcast on topics based around a set of creative works or ideas--for instance, the upcoming episodes on recontextualization, or the importance of perception of form. Don't worry: though the content will remain substantial, the tone will always be accessible and irreverent.
    • In between those, we will post shorter, 'intermezzo' episodes. These will feature discussion of a specific artist or work or performance, or a ramble about a particular idea.
    • Archives of all audio programs are available on our Soundcloud page
  • Along with the site's new look, content has been modified a bit (you may notice the shorter category list in the sidebar, for instance).  This is mainly to help us, so that we can stay better focused with the content we both create and curate for you.
  • As always, comments, questions, or thoughts you'd like to share are most welcome, and should be sent here.

Finding new music to love

One of the expected and desirable aspects of this early internet culture we're all living through is that people are able to find things they really love, and to follow them as deeply as they want. Which is pretty great. But one of the unexpected and undesirable effects has been that we can surround ourselves with only things we already love (or points-of-view we already agree with, and so forth). Which is not so great.

Especially when it comes to creative work, serendipity, the unexpected, and the unfamiliar can all lead people to fall in love with and find great meaning in works or styles or genres or etc. that they never would have selected to engage with themselves.

The Daily Music Break is a great place to find music you may have never looked for, but may love. As the site says,

Today, everyone has their own channel. Somebody who is nuts for big band jazz can choose to listen to nothing but Woody Herman and Count Basie. Classic rock fans can avoid everything but Cream and Hendrix. Madrigals your thing? No problem…

That’s fine. To each his or her own. But there is a price: Listening to what we know we like keeps us from hearing what we know nothing about. In art, the unknown always is a great thing.

Check it out, you might find something unexpected that you love!

Mind the gap: exploring great music in the middle

Re: Matt's recent post about the repertoire of the Metropolitan Opera over the past century

For a while now, Matt and I have been talking about and exploring what a truly American opera company might look like, and what its repertoire might be. It's a fascinating question, and for me the answers are strongly influenced by examples like the Modernist populist composers, whose work was both substantial and accessible, subtly-crafted yet firmly populist in origin and/or appeal. Examples would include Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Kurt Weill, or Leonard Bernstein. (Kyle Gann wrote a great post about a largely unknown but terrific American composer cut from this cloth, Marc Blitzstein, the only composer to study with both Boulanger and Schoenberg.)

The schism between American opera and popular culture was driven to a great degree by repertoire choices. But it was also driven by rejection or avoidance of, e.g., inventions and outcomes of industrialization, like technology or socio-political shifts in the early 20th century. Specific examples include something as prosaic as the microphone (which, ironically, made possible the very first ever radio broadcast ever which was a performance of the Metropolitan Opera in 1910) or the massive cultural influence of pervasive electronic media, led by the radio (invading American homes since around 1920), and the democratization of culture it enabled.

Continue reading "Mind the gap: exploring great music in the middle" »

The decline of opera's cultural relevancy in pictures

A brilliant collection of data from performances over the last 100 years at The Metropolitan Opera  demonstrates the decline in cultural relevancy in opera in the United States (illustrating patterns found throughout large, influential performing arts organizations in the U.S. more generally).

A few highlights:

1.  Median year of composition of works performed in 1910: 1870.

2.  Median year of composition of works performed in 2014: 1870. No change in 104 years.

3.  In 1910, 50% of all operas performed at The Met had been composed within the past 25 years.  As perspective, to match that today, half of current programming would be composed since 1989 (the actual portion today is less than 5%).

4.  In 1910, 80% of all operas performed at The Met had been composed within the past 50 years. Today, that means that most of their repertoire would be composed since 1964 (the actual current portion is also less than 5%).

5.  The Met has only ever produced a single opera by a female composer. It was in 1903.

If there was ever any doubt that opera as currently practiced is an inherently European art form that never evolved within American culture, check out the graph showing the percentage of American composers featured at The Met over the last 100 years. Or any of the other graphs, it's very sobering data, and our thanks to Suby Raman for putting it together.

It's not too hard to figure out why more people in the U.S. don't go to the opera.

"These Hopeful Machines" - a compelling look at the evolution of electronic music

From Radio New Zealand is These Hopeful Machines: "a six-part series in which James Gardner traces a personal path through the evolving world of electronic music – and meets some of the people who made it happen."

There is some great stuff in each episode, with lots and lots of music:

  • 2: Raindrops In The Sun - New musics rise from the secret projects and surplus junk of World War II.
  • 3: Fag ends and lollipops - Luciano Berio, Bruno Maderna, Italian Radio (Cary, Zinovieff, and Moog), and the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
  • 4: I was Born to Synthesize - Early development of analogue synthesizers and their rapid spread through experimental composition, popular music, sound effects and advertising, and more.
  • 6: A Dance To The Music of Time - Synthesizer bands of the 70s via hip hop and electronic dance music; laptops and the democratization of music production; what's next?

Don't miss the links, bibliography, and playlists toward the bottom of each episode's page. Really great, comprehensive resources.

Going to the orchestra will help get you laid?

According to Ben Folds, orchestral music is a great aphrodisiac. Which I don't disagree with, but the article also has a more salient point: community engagement by meeting listeners where they are culturally has been a boon for the St. Louis Symphony:

[S]ince launching its Live at Powell Hall series -- a collection of performances that focus on music icons, current entertainers and scores from film and television -- and other special initiatives in 2008, the St. Louis Symphony has seen significant growth in ticket revenue, from $4.84 million in 2008 to $6.57 million in 2013, with more than 39,000 new ticket buyers.

The article also gives some detail on Folds' new piano concerto, his first concert work in a very successful musical career that has thus far only covered the popular realm.

Battling Artistic Entitlement

As the General and Artistic Director of a small regional opera company in Modesto, CA, I have watched the situation with San Diego Opera unfold with a combination of amazement and bitterness.  I am amazed that a company that presents four productions annually with a $15 million budget and no debt would close down voluntarily, and I am bitter at the thought of the work our company could do for our community with a tiny fraction of that annual budget.  But this decision, made at the urging of their senior management, has helped bring into focus something I think has been a widespread problem for some time now, one which harms the sustainability of many performing arts organizations:

Artistic Entitlement.

Continue reading "Battling Artistic Entitlement" »

California Symphony's support for American composers runs deep

The East Bay based California Symphony just announced its 2014-2017 Young American Composer in Residence program, open to all American composers under 40. YACR is a pretty remarkable initiative that remains somewhat under the radar, especially given the the press that similar programs receive. Some of the notable features include multiple commissions, paid travel and copyist expenses, and recorded rehearsals of in-progress works.

The California Symphony, founded in 1986, has a well-established history of promoting young composers, something newly minted Music Director Donato Cabrera plans on continuing. "I certainly want to continue the tradition of performing works by living American composers," Cabrera said in a recent interview with San Francisco Classical Voice. "Aside from the California Symphony’s tradition of promoting composers who have become well-known — Chris Theofanidis, Mason Bates — there are many composers I went to school with who have gone on to major careers — Nico Muhly, for example. The California Symphony has a great openness to living composers, and I want to celebrate that."

One of the things that sets this residency apart is that because of its extened length, composers and players have the opportunity to really get to know one another as they work together from season to season. At a recent rehearsal several orchestra members greeted and chatted with current composer in residence D. J. Sparr prior to reading through the first section of his new work Dreams of the Old Believers. Sparr is in the third and final year of his residency but his first encounter with YACR was back in 1997 when his college roommate Kevin Puts was in the program. “I saw what a great opportunity it was to be able to work with the orchestra in the reading sessions, where you really get a chance to fine-tune your craft and ideas so that in the future your works can go into intense rehearsals and come off with as much polish as possible.


Continue reading "California Symphony's support for American composers runs deep" »

Blow it up, start again

I stole the title of this post from composer  Jonathan Newman. It's the name of a swaggering barn-burner of a piece with a great, one-sentence program note.

If the system isn't working anymore, then do what Guy Fawkes tried and go anarchist: Blow it all up, and start again.

That title was the first thing that popped into my head when I read this opinion piece in the Star-Tribune. In it arts consultant Lawrence Perelman lays out a drastic and brilliant course of action for the Minnesota Orchestra musicians.

Follow Maestro Vänskä’s lead and resign from the Minnesota Orchestra Association. Immediately announce the creation of the Minnesota Symphony, a self-governing orchestra modeled on the Vienna Philharmonic. Find a charitable organization to give temporary use of its tax status (while you establish a new nonprofit) so you can receive donations from foundations and corporations and from your audience. Govern yourselves, and assign responsibilities to yourselves. Make history by setting an example for other orchestras to follow, and end the labor-management paradigm that leads to these kinds of disputes.

Now there's a thought. Maybe some of the orchestra's younger members took one of those entrepreneurship classes in conservatory that everyone's talking about now!


The Sound Design of Star Wars

To say the original Star Wars (that is, Episode IV: A New Hope) is iconic is to say that the sky is blue.  But as a kid swept up by its bold newness, two things always really captivated me most: the stellar (ha!) soundtrack by John Williams and the vivid sound world created by legendary sound designer Ben Burtt.

FilmSound, a site "dedicated the art of film sound design and film sound theory," features this great page on Burtt's work in the original film. Check it out.

(Seriously, have you never wondered how, exactly, that great blaster sound was made in 1977? Or that TIE Fighter screech?)

Visualizing music: animations can help us hear better

I love the current trend of music animations.  We posted the superlative Rite of Spring animation below, but this simple one I especially love, because it not only helps the aural patterns make more sense (we are visually dominant in our perceptions, after all), but reveals a little bit of the actual compositional process, too.

Anyone who has studied tonal counterpoint knows that the all-time undisputed master craftsman is J. S. Bach, and The Musical Offering (BWV 1079) is a pretty clear example why.  Here its most essential idea is presented in way that helps one hear and understand the nature of a so-called 'crab canon':

Now here is the music in context--try and notice if the little animation above helped you better hear the process Bach is putting the thematic material through:

Canon 1 a2 (Canon Cancricans)

(played by the superb Ensemble Sonnerie)

Pretty neat, right?  A few more interesting animations below the break:


Continue reading "Visualizing music: animations can help us hear better" »

Postcard pieces

The London Sinfonietta had a composition contest recently, except that each piece had to fit on the back of a postcard.  Seriously.  And the results are are fantastic.  From their blog:

On Sunday, 15 September, the London Sinfonietta will be performing a selection of composer James Tenney’s Postal Pieces as part of Kings Place Festival.

Inspired by Tenney’s innovative work, we held an open call asking for compositions written on the back of a postcard and the response was phenomenal. A total of 355 RSVP compositions from 170 composers were sent in from 20 countries on 5 continents.
Also be sure to check out the brochure for their new season.  So much good programming and terrific, innovative presentation modes.  "This is not a museum" indeed.

To commemorate the Rite centennial, the most effective and beautiful music animation I've seen

So Igor Stravinsky's inimitable The Rite of Spring was famously premiered to some discontent 100 years ago today.  For  me, like so many other musicians, it is a work that is absolutely seminal.  In tribute and to facilitate more vivid listening, here it is animated in extraordinary fashion.

(And don't forget that other new music riot 100 years ago last March...probably more deserved, honestly.  Expressionism can be some provocative stuff.)

Part 1:


Part 2:


"Does it smell like a dance party in here?"

The Living Frobius Octet - an unholy combination of the Living Earth Show, Mobius Trio, and Friction Quartet - capped off the Hot Air New Music Festival with a fantastic, beer-fueled show at the Hotel Utah Saloon, which has to be the tinest venue in the world to still have a balcony. The concert featured works by Adrian Knight, Brendon Randall-Myers, Aaron Jay Kernis, Danny Clay, and Nick Benavides.


Continue reading ""Does it smell like a dance party in here?"" »

The audience is driving now

If anyone needed a clear, message-on-the-mountain kind of symbol for how fundamentally the creation, consumption, sharing, and general experience and means of culture have radically changed (and continue to change), here it is: 

A Kickstarter page to make a movie version of TV show Veronica Mars (which ended its TV run in 2007) raised its goal of TWO MILLION DOLLARS in less than a day.  So now not only is the movie that fans want definitely getting made, it still has four weeks to raise even more money to increase production quality significantly.

Think about that: fans are willing to fund on a large scale the creation of work they love, and we now have easy mechanisms for allowing them to do so.  The corporate and institutional hierarchies that have controlled the creation and dissemination of creative work for decades are being fundamentally, radically disempowered.  The implications are staggering.

So the LA Phil 2013-14 season is pretty awesome...

...like, refreshingly great and focused on modern and contemporary music.  You must check out the full season here.  Just a quick tally of the highlights:

  • 13 commissioned works
  • 11 world premieres
  • 4 U.S. premieres
  • 4 West Coast premieres
  • Revival of the Minimalist Jukebox Festival (including a new Death of Klinghoffer)
  • Salonen conducting Zappa

A little bit of commentary on this delightfully present- and forward-looking programming here, here, and here.  It almost makes me wish I lived in Los Angeles.

13 commissioned works, 11 world premieres, four U.S. premieres and four West Coast premieres during the season. Among the world premieres will be Frank Zappa's "200 Motels," a multidisciplinary work featuring 15 soloists, dancers, a rock band and symphony orchestra, and never performed in its entirety. Conductor laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen will lead the performance on the 10th anniversary date, Oct. 23. - See more at: http://www.ocregister.com/entertainment/orchestra-497337-dudamel-new.html#sthash.bsQtHrS9.dpuf

Good Programs: Anna Clyne and Brahms

In an profile with San Francisco Classical Voice long-time Bay Area conductor Alasdair Neale was asked about a program he conducted with the Marin Symphony that paired Brahms' A German Requirem with Anna Clyne's Within Her Arms. Here's the exchange.

SFCV: How do you program your season? You tend to pair warhorses with new works in interesting ways. Your April program features the Brahms Requiem and a 21st-century work, Within Her Arms, by British composer Anna Clyne.

Neale: Musically, the two are separated by 150 years. What they have in common is both works were written in response to the composer’s mother’s death. They have this DNA connection. Both deal with the notion of consolation in the face of grief. Anna Clyne’s piece was written around 2006. It’s for a small string ensemble, so it’s quite different from the Brahms, which is a massive piece for chorus and large orchestra. It’s low-key and understated.

Continue reading "Good Programs: Anna Clyne and Brahms" »

Running a marathon in jeans

Another great idea from Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. They've partnered with the Parsons School of Design to help design concert atire that is tailored to the needs of performers. Concert attire is still such an loaded issue for many musicians so it makes great sense to seek outside perspectives by teaming up with people who 1) are pursuing design studies and 2) not too emotionally invensted in what orchestral musicians wear on stage. This quote from the article sums it up nicely.

"Classical musicians are still wearing garments that were designed before the advent of all kinds of textiles and technologies,” said Joel Towers, the executive dean of Parsons, who attended the presentation. “You wouldn’t expect an Olympic-quality athlete to go trying to run the 100 meters in a pair of jeans. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Conducting as expressive collaboration: two of the best

At the beginning of each fall semester in my introductory conducting course, we spend some time exploring and discussing what the act of conducting is--what it's about, how that's accomplished--in a fundamental sense.  This involves several components like critical/comparative listening, body awareness exercises, expressive movement improvisation, and watching video.

I use video examples to show how conducting can be a whole-body, expressive act in collaboration with an ensemble of musicians, and that really exciting music-making can be the result (and that this idea is a fairly recent evolution of the conductor's role, as historical footage we view clearly demonstrates).

Two of my favorite examples each year continue to be Carlos Kleiber and Simon Rattle.  Both are conductors with tremendous energy and charisma, who use their whole bodies extremely vividly and acheive remarkable engagement with their ensembles.

Continue reading "Conducting as expressive collaboration: two of the best" »

Gone fishing

Hey folks, creating mind-blowing new paradigms is hard work so we're taking some time off from posting to recharge. In the meantime you can search the archives, catagories, and Best of LFP for some summertime stimulation.