Posts tagged music

When Classical Musicians Go Digital

music, notation, annotation, composition, archiving, technology, NYT, 2016

the advent of the mass-produced graphite pencil in the second half of the 19th century coincided with profound changes in the way a performer engaged with a musical text. The generation of musicians who benefited from the new tool — capable of making durable, but erasable, markings that didn’t harm paper — were, he wrote, “the first where practice was aimed at perfection of execution, and not developing the skills for real-time extemporization on the material in front of them, or improvisation ‘off book.’” What changes does the new digital technology reflect or enable? Conversations with some of classical music’s most passionate advocates of the gadgets and with developers like forScore and Tonara that write applications for them reveal a number of developments. The traditional top-down structure of teaching has been shaken loose. The line between scholarly and practical spheres of influence is becoming blurred. And the very notion of a definitive text is quickly losing traction — and with it, the ideal of that “perfection of execution.”


Yehudi Menuhin’s marked-up copy of Bach’s Solo Violin Sonata No. 2 - Royal Academy of Music Foyle Menuhin Archive The advent of…

music, notation, composition, technlogy

Yehudi Menuhin’s marked-up copy of Bach’s Solo Violin Sonata No. 2 - Royal Academy of Music Foyle Menuhin Archive

The advent of the mass-produced graphite pencil in the second half of the 19th century coincided with profound changes in the way a performer engaged with a musical text. The generation of musicians who benefited from the new tool — capable of making durable, but erasable, markings that didn’t harm paper — were, he wrote, “the first where practice was aimed at perfection of execution, and not developing the skills for real-time extemporization on the material in front of them, or improvisation ‘off book.’

What changes does the new digital technology reflect or enable? Conversations with some of classical music’s most passionate advocates of the gadgets and with developers like forScore and Tonara that write applications for them reveal a number of developments. The traditional top-down structure of teaching has been shaken loose. The line between scholarly and practical spheres of influence is becoming blurred. And the very notion of a definitive text is quickly losing traction — and with it, the ideal of that “perfection of execution.”

(via )

Beach Sloth reviews Farmers Manual

music, review, beach sloth, farmersmanual, farmers manual, extreme computer music, committed to the most abnormal of sonic explorations, noise, electronics, GSM, glitch, 2003, 2012, 2001, 2018

Farmers Manual – Mobile FM (AM)

“Done with the utmost of improvised, joyous spirit the two pieces seem to be restrained by absolutely nothing. This total freedom results in something that becomes completely and deeply compelling, a true joy to behold.”

“Employing a greater deal of noise and chaos, Farmers Manual ratchet up the tension to unfathomable degrees while layers veer right into pure cacophony. Distortion layers on top of itself, resulting in an ornate series of patterns. By the latter half Farmers Manual only lets the distortion and noise take over, with any trace of humanity fully scrubbed out.”

Farmers Manual – Sonderzeichenmassaker

“Always ready for a spot of fun, Farmers Manual ensures that they destroy everything in their path. The tension they employ throughout results in a surprisingly great deal of joy, the way they allow everything to burst forth in a tremendous almost flowering of sound. Very much in the noise realm of things, they make sure that the song’s unpredictability allows for a few jump scares, while they increase the volume into uncomfortable degrees. Outright amazing, they prove exactly how to allow sound to completely lose it while documenting the results.“

“Something particularly unique to Farmers Manual, they never make a grand entrance. Their emphasis relies on a steady patience, one that allows a stream of consciousness approach to songwriting, or textural exploration. It feels quite natural what they do, allowing their sound to speak for itself. Over the course of the piece this proves to be true for they take a light touch the sound, only gently nudging it when absolutely necessary. For the most part, it is the sound that does most of the work, growing with an unrealized kind of potential. About halfway through the piece the pulsing rhythm starts to truly assert itself, allowing for a great deal of madness right on the periphery to gain considerable clout. When the piece becomes unruly, it truly becomes all-encompassing, offering no escape from the onslaught.”

Farmers Manual – Stat = Conjecture Pirayune Snart

“Is Farmers Manual, after years of relaxing at art exhibits, finally about to become normal? Considering this particular piece’s main description is“farmersmanual dropped some bluish green squares on the floor” the answer is thankfully no. One of the more unique and sorely missed groups of extreme computer musicians, there is something quite intense about what they do. Rhythms are mangled, textures warped, and any discernible reference point to actual genres a mere accident.”

“Jagged little edges and crackles introduce the piece. From there the tiny textures have a near-funk like element to them. Noise emerges until it virtually collapses upon itself.“

“With “Stat = Conjecture Pirayune Snart ” Farmers Manual prove they are the oddity of all oddities, a group that remains committed to the most abnormal of sonic explorations.”

The Inside Story Of SoundCloud’s Collapse

soundcloud, startup, music, 2017

Today, SoundCloud appears stuck in no man’s land, according to former executives and employees. Though the company found validation with the major labels and launched a me-too subscription music service, former employees and music industry executives argue it bungled a great opportunity by losing sight of what made it unique: serving as a listening platform for non-label controlled content. Jake Udell, the CEO and founder of TH3RD BRAIN, a management company that represents artists like Gallant and Grace VanderWaal, said that SoundCloud used to be the first place he’d go to post music of his up-and-coming acts. “Back then I would have to fight the labels to have songs on SoundCloud,” he said. “Now it’s not even part of the conversation.”


Midimutant: a system that programs synths by artificial evolution

midimutant, foam, aphex-twin, genetic-programming, artificial-evolution, automation, TX7, music

It can be really boring trying to program new sounds on complicated synthesizers. So why not get a computer to do it for you? By a process of what FoAM are calling artificial evolution, the Midimutant can grow new sounds on hardware synthesizers based on your starting sound. Midimutant. Developed, apparently, with Aphex Twin, the video below shows the Midimutant generating sounds on a Yamaha TX7. Something no one in their right mind would want to spend time programming.


The neural network will name your next band

char-rnn, band names, music


An important part of starting a new band is choosing an appropriate name. It is crucial that the name be unique, or you could risk at best confusion, and at worst an expensive lawsuit.

The neural network is here to help.

Prof. Mark Riedl of Georgia Tech, who recently provided the world a dataset of all the stories with plot summaries on Wikipedia, (enabling this post on neural net story names) now used his Wikipedia-extraction skills to produce a list of all the bands with listed discographies - about 84,000 in all.

I gave the list to the Char-rnnneural network framework, and it was soon producing unique band names for a variety of genres. Below are examples of its output at various temperature (i.e. creativity) settings.

Temperature 1.1

This is about as high as the creativity setting can go before most of the band names are unpronounceable jumbles. These are some fine band names, highly suitable for whatever the heck their genres are supposed to be.

Spice Green Robinson
Gloome Schronnana
The Freights
Nighty Daggers
The Loveburners of Internal Watch
Foxettes Ratimot Secret singer band
The Dougloco
The Theps
Choconard Leach
Mighty Chipping Baker
Bop Gray (band)

Temperature 1.0

With the creativity turned down a bit, the band names are still weird, but a bit more plausible. Their genres can sometimes be identified.

For example, I think these are probably traditional Irish bands?

The Durks of Audun Green
Sherry of Shinking Feavan
The Shurping Laudst

And these might work as metal bands:

Rabidass (band)
Killerlet (musician)
Brokin’s Killer
Flish Lipe
Girl Dead

These are perhaps a bit less scrutable.

Dr Overhard
The Arce (band)
The Tree Misters
Reilling Ef (rapper)
Flim Brothers
Ching Mage
Nan Edwards (folk singer)
Nittle Bizzy
The Dinlakoposseps
Skins of Space
Michael Porker
The Lost singers
The Nutlet Band
The Rogue Orchestra
The Fuman.A.I.((band)
Vervoly Brown (urtist)
Boohalloid (group)
The Ballening Birds
Lice Stepley

Temperature 0.9

With the creativity turned down a notch further, the band names become even more plausible. You could probably convince me that these exist.

No Andrew Newson
Fuzion (band)
The Wurfywinders
Clay Fights
Berry Stitcher
Something Rothers
The Awl
The Thingsons
Switch’s Rich
Pond Billy
The Hums (band)
Northern Prince (Indian band)
Staff Killer

Temperature 0.6

Turn the creativity down another notch, and we start to edge toward the neural network’s idea of the most quintessential band names. Note that they’re still pretty weird.

Dub Arts
Sheet Rose
Heart Coil
Elliot Horse
Big Love
The Mothers (band)
The Time Stars
Hulls of Girls
Sucken (band)
Electric Sing Show
The Pans
Symphony No. 3 (Dinish band)
Hell Staple (band)
Peter Parker
Bad Head
The Out Cookers
Flower Shankar
The Hat Coles

Temperature 0.3

Now at a creativity setting of only 0.3, almost all the band names are variations on “The [Noun]”.

The Shines
The Deaths
The Dance (band)
The Livers (band)
The Stone Choir
The Shake Man (band)

Another strange thing happens, which is that the proportion of sharks goes way, way up. Apparently the neural network thinks that if you’re going to name a band, you can’t go wrong with sharks.

Johnny Shark
The Shark Charles
Shark Rander
The Shark (band)
Nicole Shark
Shark Gordon
Shark Taylor (musician)
The Shark Singers
Tony Shark

Temperature 0.01

And now we come to the lowest temperature setting, where the neural network’s output consists of the most-quintessential band name, repeated over and over. Throughout most of the training process, this name was “The Stars” and occasionally “The Brothers”, but there was one generation where the neural network repeatedly insisted that there was nothing… nothing more fundamental to music than the banjo-playing skills of:

Steve Martin (musician)
Steve Martin (musician)
Steve Martin (musician)
Steve Martin (musician)
Steve Martin (musician)
Steve Martin (musician)
Steve Martin (musician)
Steve Martin (musician)

Musical Novelty Search

Medium, music, ableton, evolution, novelty search, samim, machine learning

Making music with computer tools is delightful. Musical ideas can be explored quickly and composing songs is easy. Yet for many, these tools are overwhelming: An ocean of settings can be tweaked and it is often unclear, which changes lead to a great song. This experiment investigates how to use evolutionary algorithm and novelty search to help musicians find musical inspiration in Ableton Live.


The Love and Terror of Nick Cave

Nick-Cave, music, meaning, god, butterflies

“Some say why waste your time believing in God when there is so much natural beauty and awesomeness around us. Some say that there is more beauty and wonder looking at a butterfly and I agree, butterflies are beautiful things, but if you get a human being to look closely at a butterfly, to look very closely and get some more human beings to look at that butterfly so that there is a collective of people all peering intently at the butterfly they will ultimately fall to their knees and worship that butterfly. It’s the way humans are put together. I don’t think that makes them stupid. I think it’s kind of sweet. Until someone says well my butterfly is the true butterfly and yours is not and flies a plane into the twin towers.”


Mika Vainio’s quiet influence on electronic music was deafening

Mika-Vainio, panasonic, sound, music, noise, 2017, eulogy

Vainio’s influence on ambient and industrial electronic music was somewhat unspoken in his lifetime. He was not a figurehead of a scene, but pretty much all booming palettes of mechanical sound being made today nod in some way to Vainio and his work with Pan Sonic […] Vainio’s beats weren’t beats at all, they were the sound and feeling of a black hole opening up in the centre of your chest.[…] like “flares, vapour trails, LEDs, neon tubes close to death, heart murmurs, apertures opening and closing in cement walls, tiny mechanised guillotines snipping the heads from tin soldiers, sheets of led unfurling in underground car parks”.


Déphasage #134 – 18.01.17

farmersmanual, music




1/ Olivia Block ‎- Dissolution A (Dissolution/Glistening Examples/Nov 2016)
2/ Mica Levi & Oliver Coates - Bless Our Toes (Remain Calm/Slip/Nov 2016)
3/ Mica Levi & Oliver Coates - Dolphins Climb Onto Shore For The First Time (Remain Calm/Slip/Nov 2016)
4/ farmersmanual - loop der.ii (fsck/Tray/1997)
5/ farmersmanual - klopp01.proc (fsck/Tray/1997)
6/ farmersmanual - frog dies in sunlight (fsck/Tray/1997)
7/ farmersmanual - 364 (fsck/Tray/1997)
7/ farmersmanual - 368 (fsck/Tray/1997)
8/ Spring Heel Jack - Chorale (Masses/Thirsty Ear/2001)
9/ Spring Heel Jack - Salt (Masses/Thirsty Ear/2001)


Olivia Block vit et travaille principalement à Chicago avec 16 oeuvres à son actif, dont les premières remontent à 1998. Chacun de ses travaux propres à ses éléments d’expression, elle dirige ses intérêts sur des spécificités locales ou ethnographiques.

Également familière des eaux académiques, elle est cité dans de nombreuses grandes écoles de musique à Chicago et anime par intermittence quelques conférences en université. Lors de concerts elle installe le principe de «cinéma sans visuels», place des auditeurs assis dans une pièce sombre, devant un écran noir, avec seul l’ouïe comme sens stimulé.

L’observation de la communication humaine face à l’essor des technologies passées ou présentes semblent constituer les motivations de Olivia Block pour le projet. Radio à ondes courtes, communications captées par ondes, bulletins municipaux et fragments de cassettes, sont touchés du doigt pour traiter l’échange humain dans sa chronologie.

Plus la désintégration de ces matériaux opère, plus les voix et les environnements se ressemblent. Des voix hésitantes, effrayées, pressées, frustrées, politiques ou professionnelles finissent par précéder ronflements, sifflements, clic et échos. Ceux-ci sont prix en mouvement dans un flux oscillant entre simple matières sonore et éléments anecdotiques.

Essayer de répertorier les éléments de «Dissolution», c'est comme essayer de reconstituer une image d'une civilisation contemporaine à partir de ses traces déjà ruinées; Il semble que tous ces miettes brisées de ces communication devraient se rassembler pour former une image cohérente. La couverture d’album est une maison partiellement éffrondrée; à prendre comme métaphore apte à décrire cette musique sur plus d’un aspect : le sentiment de familiarité au milieu des ruines; le remodelage de la mémoire déclenchée par le quotidien ordinaire souvent ennemi de la création.


Utiliser un instruments comme le violoncelle aujourd’hui dans une composition relève d’un sacré défi pour arriver à extirper un tant soit peu d’intérêt sonore et musicale, sans tomber dans le pathos gratuit. Pourtant les deux artistes de ce soir ont à eux deux en solo et en duo réussi la prouesse d’attirer les oreilles en quête de nouveautés. Mica Levi et Oliver Coates, tout deux britanniques issues d’une formation classique, mais comme à l’accoutumée, les sujets de sa majesté aiment sortir des sentiers battus (et là je fais un clin d’oeil à l’académisme mortifère français).
La première évolue aussi bien dans la sphère pop de traverse avec son groupe Micachu & The Shapes que dans la composition de bande-originale, du film Under The Skin par exemple où elle utilise justement les cordes d’une manière inouïe dans un contexte pseudo électronique. C’est d’ailleurs là qu’elle rencontra Oliver Coates, violoncelliste et compositeur de BO également, faisant partie du London Contemporary Orchestra qui a travaillé avec Radiohead pour leur dernier album.

Autant dire que les deux ensemble donnent un résultat qui transcende toutes les étiquettes, mais qui crée pourtant son identité. On est enfin sorti du Modern Classical, on ne veut plus de Noise ni de Drone, encore moins de Techno et de House démodées, du Minimalisme peut être mais pas trop. Ce que l’on veut c’est déconstruire tout cela, ce que l’on veut c’est un son d’aujourd’hui, un son de 2017, et « Remain Calm » peut très bien en être un bel exemple.


Collectif audiovisuel Viennois formé au début des années 90, farmersmanual, sans espaces ni majuscule (pour une meilleure intégration internet), cultive le mystère, même dans le contexte d’anonymat général qui règne alors sur la musique électronique.

Touché par la fascination collective de cette période pour l’informatique à l’aube de son explosion, le collectif multimédia propose une musique énigmatique, tout en fragmentation, au caractère accidentel, voir incontrôlé, que l’on devine issue de complexes processus aléatoires.

L’utopie internet, ce nouveau territoire vaste et virtuel qui excite alors, inspire et fait rêver, intangible jungle chiffrée où tout semble permis, est encore vierge des gros propriétaires, qui finissent aujourd’hui sa déforestation brutale et sa privatisation.

Maintenant le flou artistique sur leurs méthodes de travail, les membres du collectif insistent sur la partie informatique de leur production, considérant par exemple leur site comme une émanation aussi importante de leurs efforts que la musique elle-même. La musique de fsck est faite par les machines, autant qu’avec elle. Elle n’a pas de forme prédéterminée, pas de durée précise, pas de début ni de fin logique, il s’agit d’un flux intarissable dont ils présentent quelques courts extraits au public, sous la forme de disques ou de concerts, quelques moments capturés et rendus audibles, tandis que se poursuit en interne son déroulement sans sommeil.

Explorant les possibilités du format CD-rom, nouveauté élue, promis à un brillant avenir, ils ajoutent à leurs albums des contenus multimédia, et jouent des possibilités de l’index numérique comme sur Explorer’s we, indexé arbitrairement toutes les soixantes secondes, qui encourage à la lecture aléatoire. Leur site internet bénéficie également d’un soin particulier, avec de nombreuses possibilités d’interaction et une attention donnée au graphisme.

La musique de fsck, faite de glitch et de bruits, de breaks squelettiques déconstruits au delà du rythme, a su résister à l’épreuve du temps, du fait de son étrangeté singulière et de la capacité qu’elle a eu à s’infuser dans la suite de l’histoire de la musique électronique.

En revanche, le reste du discours artistique de farmersmanual fait rétrospectivement penser au park d’attraction de Prypiat, ou aux innombrables mondes virtuels des jeux massivement multijoueurs qui tombent désormais à l’abandon. Incroyablement vide et statique, et d’une tristesse ahurissante, qu’il s’agisse du gris du béton irradié, de la peinture écaillée d’une grande roue qui ne tournera plus, ou d’un programme sénile qui se répète en boucle encore et encore, animant un dernier personnage de pixel mal défini jusqu'à ce que son support physique finisse enfin par mourir.

Le site de farmersmanual, dont la dernière mise à jour date de 2007, est un témoin nostalgique et figé d’une antiquité numérique dorée, victime d’une obsolescence ultrarapide. Pendant ce temps, toujours, partout, continuent de naître et de mourir les illusions, les utopies et l'innocence dans les yeux des enfants.


Spring heel jack est un duo anglais qui a vu le jour dans les années 90 et qui fit ses balbutiements dans la sphère drum'n'bass et jungle de l'époque. Après plusieurs albums le duo change radicalement de direction avec Masses, sorti en 2001 sur le label Thirsty ear.

Les rythmes foisonnants et les lignes de basses épaisses sont mis de cotés, on quitte alors les quatre murs délimitant une surface destinée à laisser s'exprimer la fougue de nos membres pour un espace beaucoup plus vaste. La création de cet album s'est déroulé suivant deux étapes. D'abord Ashley Wales et John Coxon ont concocté de longues plages sonore volontairement épurées, où évoluent des textures granuleuses, parsemées de sons concrets plus ou moins dégradés, nous donnant à entendre une matière en proie à une lente décomposition. Ils ont ensuite invité quelques grandes figures du Jazz contemporain a venir improviser sur ces morceaux s'apparentant à des pages partiellement vierges. On retrouvera entre autres : Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Tim berne, ainsi qu'Evan Parker, fervent défenseur de la musique improvisée et fondateur de l'ElectroAcoustic Ensemble. Se dessine alors un free jazz mutant, où l'immédiateté du discours improvisé et le développement plus réfléchi des manipulations électroniques forment un équilibre périlleux. Chacune des pistes nous dévoile une ambiance propre, tantôt intimiste, tantôt électrique, proposant à l'auditeur une palette de couleurs riche et varié. Libéré des contraintes imposé par le dance-floor, Spring Heel Jack & Cie court-circuitent le temps en injectant la chaleur primitive du free jazz à l'implacable précision de la musique électronique, donnant à chacune un nouvel angle d'admiration, pour le plaisir de nos gourmands tympans.

3quarksdaily: Deep learning dead languages

music, Language, linguistics, machine-learning, Espen-Sommer-Eide

I turned my experiments back towards language again. Would it be possible to train a deep learning network for a dead language? I have in my previous art projects worked extensively with languages that are endangered or already extinct – so called dying languages[4]. Every ten days a language disappears, and at that rate, within a few generations, half of the approximately 6000 languages in the world today will be extinct. The concept of a dying language is a highly complex mechanism. In order for language to survive, it is of central importance that the language is in use, especially in normal households, and between generations of a family. Can a language be kept and conserved for future generations, or is a language alive only when actively used and spoken between people in a society? Can a language be detached from a people’s culture, knowledge and identity? Among the family of Sámi languages (of the indigenous groups of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia), several of the languages are already extinct or with very few and old speakers left, but efforts are being made to help revive some of them.


Remembering Mark Fisher

music, politics, quietus, Mark-Fisher, obituary, ccru, writing, theory, 2017

The loss of Mark Fisher, aged just 48, has not just left family, friends and colleagues shocked and devastated; it leaves a gaping crater in modern intellectual life. The poet and writer Alex Niven, with whom he worked at Repeater books, described him as “by some distance the best writer in Britain” and, as a flood of tributes on social media have come appended with links to his work, whether on k-punk, his much-read blog, interviews he conducted for The Wire or extracts from his very latest book The Weird And The Eerie, that is a judgment with which it is hard to disagree.


The History of Electronic Music in 476 Tracks (1937–2001)

electronic, history, music, ubuweb, musicology

Spanning the years 1937-2001, the collection should especially appeal to those with an avant-garde or musicological bent. In fact, the original uploader of this archive of experimental sound, Caio Barros, put these tracks online in 2009 while a student of composition at Brazil’s State University of São Paulo. Barrios’ “initiative,” as he writes at Ubuweb, “became some sort of legend” among musicophiles in the know. And yet, Ubuweb reposts this phenomenal collection with a disclaimer: “It’s a clearly flawed selection”


In Conversation with Stevie Wishart

Medium, Stevie Wishart, Alkan Chipperfield, music, art, interview, FoAM

Stevie Wishart was FoAM’s “composer in transience” at the Brussels studio for most of 2015. Her residency emerged as a natural consequence of a long involvement with FoAM spanning several years and numerous projects, including most recently Wheel & Time(less), Candlemas Concerto, FutureFest, Smoke & Vapour, and Inner Garden. When I had the opportunity to talk with her in the spring of 2015 she was deeply immersed in a large composition that would be performed by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in May. Our discussions therefore gravitated around the particular challenges and musical innovations she was imminently preoccupied with at the time — which made for some fascinating comparisons and contrasts between these and the very different contexts and approaches entailed in working on a musical project at FoAM.


WaveNet: A Generative Model for Raw Audio

audio, music, speech, synthesis, rnn, cnn, deepmind, generative, wavenets

This post presents WaveNet, a deep generative model of raw audio waveforms. We show that WaveNets are able to generate speech which mimics any human voice and which sounds more natural than the best existing Text-to-Speech systems, reducing the gap with human performance by over 50%. We also demonstrate that the same network can be used to synthesize other audio signals such as music, and present some striking samples of automatically generated piano pieces.


Why we love repetition in music

psychology, music, repetition, research, ritual, Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, Aeon

In 2008, the psychologists Pascal Boyer and Pierre Liénard at Washington University in St Louis went so far as to claim that ritual creates a distinct attentional state in which we consider actions on a much more basic level than usual […] Ritual shifts attention from the overall pattern of events toward their component gestures. Instead of noting only that a bowl is being cleaned, the witness to a ritual might notice the acceleration of the hand across the bowl’s edge during each wiping gesture, or the way the cloth bunches and then opens as it is dragged forward and back across the surface. What’s more, the repetition of gestures makes it harder and harder to resist imaginatively modelling them, feeling how it might be to move your own hand in the same way. This is precisely the way that repetition in music works to make the nuanced, expressive elements of the sound increasingly available, and to make a participatory tendency – a tendency to move or sing along – more irresistible.

In conversation with… Kate Sicchio and Alex McLean

code, performance, music, choreography, notation, Kate Sicchio, yaxu, Alex McLean

Sound Choreography Body Code is a performance collaboration between choreographer and performer Kate Sicchio, and researcher and live coder Alex McLean. The work creates a feedback loop through code, music, choreography, dance and back through code. We spoke with Kate and Alex to ask them about the work, and the thinking behind such a multimedia, multi-disciplinary piece.

How Music Hijacks Our Perception of Time

time, perception, music, neurophysiology

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. “For the time element in music is single,” wrote Thomas Mann in his novel, The Magic Mountain. “Into a section of mortal time music pours itself, thereby inexpressibly enhancing and ennobling what it fills.”

In Search of a Concrete Music

Pierre Schaeffer, music, history, musique concrete, frieze

Recorded sound was first imagined as long ago as 1552. In the fourth book of François Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, there’s a tale about crossing the Frozen Sea where, the previous winter, there had been a battle between two warring tribes. The noise of combat had turned to ice but, as the sea unfroze, so too did the sounds, pouring forth in a torrent of war cries, whinnying horses and clashing weapons. This ‘cryosonic’ notion of sound as a solid, retrievable object appealed so much to Pierre Schaeffer that, in 1952, he created a piece called Les paroles dégelées (Thawed Words), in which he altered the timbre of a voice reading Rabelais’ work aloud by various tape manipulation techniques – a process he had already dubbed musique concrète.

Boil the Frog

music, graph, echo nest, remix, playlist, similarity, frog boiling

Boil the Frog lets you create a playlist of songs that gradually takes you from one music style to another. It’s like the proverbial frog in the pot of water. If you heat up the pot slowly enough, the frog will never notice that he’s being made into a stew and jump out of the pot. With a Boil the frog playlist you can do the same, but with music.

The Soviet synthesizer that bridged occultism and electronic music

ANS, Theremin, coil, occult, synaesthesia, history, synthesizer, sound, music, russia, synth

The Russian avant garde was far ahead of the West in the development of electronic instruments. Leon Theremin, inventor of the first mass produced electronic instrument, is the best remembered experimenter of this period. The Theremin synthesizes motion and sound the same way the ANS sythesizes images and sound. But his eponymous instrument was hardly Theremin’s only experiment. “Theremin worked on countless projects, striving to bring music, light, movement, smell and touch together in a single technology,” Smirnov and Pchelkina wrote. Scriabin would have been proud.

The Queen’s Android (via

robot, dulcimer, sculpture, automation, automaton, music

The Queen’s Android (via

“This famous android was a collaborative effort by two Germans. Clockmaker Peter Kintzing created the mechanism and joiner David Roentgen crafted the cabinet; the dress dates from the 19th century. Automatons were in circulation and aroused much curiosity. Roentgen probably sent the tympanum to the French court and Marie-Antoinette bought it in 1784. The queen, aware of its perfection and scientific interest, had it deposited in the Academy of Sciences cabinet in 1785. The tympanum is a musical instrument that plays eight tunes when the female android strikes the 46 strings with two little hammers. Tradition has it that she is a depiction of Marie-Antoinette.”

E.O. Wilson on the origins of the arts

language, writing, literature, E.O. Wilson, evolution, nature, humanities, music, art, science

RICH AND SEEMINGLY BOUNDLESS as the creative arts seem to be, each is filtered through the narrow biological channels of human cognition. Our sensory world, what we can learn unaided about reality external to our bodies, is pitifully small. Our vision is limited to a tiny segment of the electromagnetic spectrum, where wave frequencies in their fullness range from gamma radiation at the upper end, downward to the ultralow frequency used in some specialized forms of communication. We see only a tiny bit in the middle of the whole, which we refer to as the “visual spectrum.” Our optical apparatus divides this accessible piece into the fuzzy divisions we call colors. Just beyond blue in frequency is ultraviolet, which insects can see but we cannot. Of the sound frequencies all around us we hear only a few. Bats orient with the echoes of ultrasound, at a frequency too high for our ears, and elephants communicate with grumbling at frequencies too low.

Mathematics, movement, music and Leonardo

movement, jazz, mathematics, music

I’ve always been intrigued by the sensation of movement in music.  And it is fair to say that it was my first calculus class that led me to graduate study in mathematics because, for the first time, I saw movement in mathematics.  My fascination with each of these was nudged again by an interview with jazz pianist Vijay Iyer that I heard on NPR’s All Things Considered.