Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cute Photos for a Thanksgiving Day

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone. Enjoy cute photos of the boys along with your turkey.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Stop Stalking My Family, Pottery Barn

I have a hard enough time convincing Joy not to spend a bazillion dollars at Pottery Barn when the catalogs arrive every month without this showing up in the most recent one:
That's right, our children's names are hip enough to share a photo shoot in Pottery Barn. *sigh*

Saturday, November 21, 2009

50 Most Important Albums

Have you seen this yet? This week, NPR's music gurus got together and decided on the 50 most important albums of the 21st century's first decade. They weren't interested in the best, but the ones that were game changers in some ways. Most of their picks you would have guessed, and many are right on. I'm glad they singled out Osvaldo Golijov as his music has definitely made people sit up and take notice, but I would have picked Ayre as the game changer (who expected anyone to get Dawn Upshaw to growl?). But besides picking Britney Spears, I couldn't believe that they thought John Adams's On the Transmigration of Souls was a huge shift in perception or composition. Come on, he's been composing and releasing albums in that style for 20 years now. What about David Lang's Little Match Girl Passion? I know just from my students that the composition and album have changed the way they hear compositions from the branches of minimalism.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Harry Partch in the News

It isn't often that the main subject of my scholarly inquiry ends up at the center of a feud between rock musicians. So imagine my glee when I discovered this single this morning:
That's right, Beck has posted a song called "Harry Partch" over on his website. Granted that listening to it he borrows from minimalism as he does from Partch, but he's got some sounds that mimic Partch's plectrum instruments and he plays around in a justly tuned toolbox.

Evidently the single was inspired by an argument between Radiohead and The Fiery Furnaces. Radiohead recently released a single called "Harry Patch" in honor to the oldest WWI British Soldier who died this summer. The lead singer of Furnaces responded:

"'Oh, please listen to our new song about Harry Patch'. You brand yourself by brazenly and arbitrarily associating yourself with things that you know people consider cool. That is bogus. That's a put-on. That's a branding technique, and Radiohead have their brand that they're popular and intelligent, so they have a song about Harry Patch. How's the song? Is it 48 notes to the octave? What does it have to do with Harry Patch? Oh, my wife says I am being very rude. She doesn't like me insulting Radiohead. She's afraid they will send their lackeys through the computer to sabotage us. But they needn't worry -- we are a band that sabotages ourselves."

Yes, he mistook Harry Partch for Harry Patch. That's ok, I do it all the time. Still, it made for a great moment in the sun for good ole Harry.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sam Continues His Plan for World Domination

Monday night,we were all sitting at supper, eating and chatting when the topic turned to Sam's day at school. We innocently began asking him what he had done when under his breath he mentioned kicking. Shocked, Joy and I looked each other for a moment before Joy cautiously asked:

"Sam, did someone kick you?"

Sam turned and looked at Joy for a moment before he started laughing maniacally. In between his laughs, he managed to say, "No, no one would kick me!"

That's right, Sam is so sure of his place on the playground that it is a hysterical thought just to contemplate someone kicking him.

*sigh* He was probably laughing because we had been laughing all through supper, but still, we though it useful to talk about how we should solve our frustrations through nonviolent means. You know, like mind control.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Autotuning as Internet Meme

I've written before of my serious problems with autotuning when it is hidden from the listener and we're allowed to believe that singers can actually hit the notes they are hitting correctly. But what of obvious uses of autotuning like T-Pain? Or those Carl Sagan mashups Stephen has been posting the last few weeks? Well, in order to understand those, I think we need a lesson from Weird Al:

Know Your Meme: Auto Tune (featuring "Weird Al" Yankovic) from Rocketboom on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sam Plays Games

Joy and I are gamers from way back and since having Sam, have been looking forward to the day when he was ready to play games. Since this summer, he's been mildly interested in them, but over the past two weeks, he's become obsessed. He has been pulling games out of our game drawers and asking to play them, particularly "Bitin off Hedz," a dinosaur game where you try to make it to the end of the board without another dinosaur throwing rocks at you or, ahem, bitin off your hed.

"Bitin off Hedz" is a silly game and perfect for letting off steam after a long week, which is exactly how we used it in graduate school. For Sam, he is just eager to march around with dinosaurs and throw rocks. He and Joy have played it almost every day this week and I'm sure I'll play a few games myself today. But my favorite part of this whole adventure was when he told Joy he wanted to play that "Chia Pass" game. She looked at him with a confused look until she realized that he was misreading the company's name that makes "Bitin off Hedz" - Cheapass Games.

Yeah, that's totally our new name for that company, replacing what my cousin used to call it - Cheapbeep games.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Teaching at the Speed of the Internet

I'm always trying to make music history come alive for my students, so when a colleague mentioned that she wanted to get some pianos tuned in historical temperaments for her advanced ear training class, I jumped at the chance to have my early music history students experience the temperaments for themselves. Our piano technician tuned three harpsichords for us, one in just intonation, one in meantone, and one in Kirnberger well temperament. He then took the time to explain to the students why these various temperaments existed and the types of music written for them (if you'd like to know more details, let me know in the comments). Once he was finished demonstrating, he invited the students to come and try out the harpsichords. One student came down and tried a bit of Scarlatti, another played a little Bach. Then, one of my jazz studies majors, decided to try a little improv on the Kirnberger and modulated all over the place. Now, all of these temperaments have keys that aren't fully in tune, though the well tempering does make all keys usable; just some are more usable than others. When he modulated, he was able to find all the bad keys and the result was amazing.

After the demonstration, we headed back up to the classroom and discussed the various instrumental genres that wrote in those temperaments. When I got back to my office after class, a student had e-mailed me the following video:

That's right, a friend of his videoed my jazz student and then posted it to youtube while we were walking back up to the classroom. My classroom is instantly expanded where the students can now go back and hear the temperaments whenever they want. Technology is truly changing teaching.

New Listening Journals

In case you are interested (and have a burning passion for Josquin or Palestrina), my students have all posted their latest round of listening journals. I need to figure out a way for them to stream musical examples to make the journals that much more engaging, but they are fun to read as they are. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

More Fun Historical Tidbits

Yesterday, I brought you a bit of musical history restored. Today here's a bit of musical history that you no longer have to dig for. Life Magazine is all on google books and all searchable. That means that the legendary review of Cage's percussion concerts from the early 1940s is now available at the click of a button. I've long had the text, but now I also know that pictures of the ensemble rest side-by-side with "the single slice of have that serves five!"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Futurists Return

I've long been fascinated by a little known early 20th century composer named Luigi Russolo. Russolo rejected everything about music of his time, especially the fact that it was created by traditional instruments and instead urged composers to write for the sounds that serenade us everyday without our conscious awareness. As he wrote, orchestras and pianos were inferior to “the crashing down of metal shop blinds, slamming doors, the hubbub and shuffling of crowds, the variety of din from stations, railways, iron foundries, spinning mills, printing works, electric power stations, and underground railways.” In other words, Russolo had a vision in which “every factory will be transformed into an intoxicating orchestra of noises.”

Those lines come from his 1913 Futurist manifesto "The Art of Noises." Not content to just write about this new sound world, Russolo began creating it. He began inventing instruments based on the hurdy gurdy principle where the sound-producing object is in a box and the turn of a crank operates it. He called these instruments called “intonarumori” (noise intoners) and first performed with them in early 1914.Fascinating ideas that influenced countless composers in the 20th century from Stravinsky to Cage and on down the line. The only problem is that all his intonarumori were destroyed along with most of his compositions so we've had, at best, ear witnesses to tell us about the works.

Not any longer.

I just discovered this video that comes as advertisement for a concert this week featuring the intonarumori:

(and yes, that is Mike Patton of Faith No More) Isn't that amazing? A piece of history restored that still seems ahead of its time.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sam and Noah Do Halloween

For various reasons, we've been away from our house on Halloween for every year before this one. So we didn't know what the neighborhood was like on the holiday nor did we know how Sam would react to trick or treating as all he had experienced was getting candy at church.

Looking back we shouldn't have been so surprised at the outcome.

Early Saturday afternoon, we headed up to a neighborhood church that was hosting a big Halloween carnival. As we walked up the street, we saw a big tractor pulling a wagon covered with hay. Sam was excited, but Noah was beside himself. He frantically signed truck until we arrived at the church and climbed on for the hayride. Then Noah reversed positions and began crying about the ride (probably because of the loud tractor) until we were finished.

Inside the church were games galore, and everything Sam did, Noah had to try also. Sam decorated a cookie? Noah smeared icing all over one too. Sam wanted to race the wind-up pigs? Noah wanted to pick one up and carry it to the finish line. Sam threw the bean-bag and knocked off Humpty Dumpty without knocking over the wall? Noah threw the beanbag and knocked off Humtpy Dumpty without knocking over the wall. (seriously - we were very impressed and plan to start baseball lessons soon).

Afterwards, we came home for a bit of nutritious supper before heading out to trick or treat. I volunteered to stay home and hand out candy, but Joy insisted I go. I later discovered why she wanted me to go. Door to door trick or treating in your neighborhood when you know most of your neighbors is nothing more than an excuse for parents to revel in people fawning over your adorable children.

The boys had a different reason for being out on the street. Sam quickly figured out the pattern that we only stopped at houses with lights on and would run screaming "trick or treat" from house to house, barely waiting for us to catch up. Once we caught up to him, Sam would always mention that he needed extra candy for his brother just to pad his certainly rich coffers. In fact, in crowds of children, he was the one who sneaked a hand in the bowl to get a piece of candy and then held his hand out as if he hadn't already received some. Noah, on the other hand, wasn't too sure of the entire process and even tried to give the candy he got at the first house to the owners of the second house. But he quickly figured out the game and by halfway through the night, was toddling up to doors, smiling and saying "trii tree" and "than oo" to get candy.

Even with all the candy, the favorite prize of the night was from our neighbors across the street. They gave out plastic kazoos and since Saturday night, our house has rung with double kazoo playing from morning to night. But that's alright - perhaps the kazoos will distract the boys enough so they won't notice that half their candy has mysteriously disappeared.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Composer Theft

Have any of you been following this story? Turns out that Peter Maxwell Davies, a wonderful English composer, has been swindled out of over $850,000 by his agent and manager of over 30 years, Michael Arnold, in order to sustain his gambling addiction. The story broke late last year, but in the past few weeks Arnold has admitted to the theft and received an 18 month jail sentence.

Who does this? Doesn't everyone know that contemporary composers are, by and large, not a rich group by any stretch of the imagination. The revelation comes on the heels of Terry Riley's website getting hacked. Who is attacking all the cool composers?

The one thing that gives me great joy in the entire episode is my learning that Max Davies is currently the Master of the Queen's Music. Why do I take such great joy in Davies having this position? Because he is perhaps best known for his Eight Songs for a Mad King in which King George III progressively descends into insanity, ultimately destroying a violin on stage. Perhaps that's why when he was appointed, they changed the position's tenure from life to ten years.