Saturday, December 31, 2005


Why do we need a human in a musical performance? Wait, let me say it another way - why do we need to see a human in order to validate a musical performance?

The TransPose is a device that is intended to address this "problem" in electronic music. I couldn't help but notice that the interface, which projects a silhouette of the "performer" onto a screen, where one presses "noteboxes" that contain precomposed loops and melodies, is rather simple and incredibly limiting, creatively.

In the end, this device is really nothing more than a sort of video keyboard. By far the most interesting thing about it is the technology that interprets human movements. But musically, this utilization is a total disaster, and it does nothing to answer the fundamental question - why do we need to see a human in a musical performance??????

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Dept of Homeland Security visit is a HOAX!

I posted a link earlier to a story about an undergraduate student who received a visit from the Department of Homeland Security after requesting Mao's Little Red Book through Interlibrary Loan.

Turns out that the story was a hoax. That's what I get for allowing one political post in the blog! PS - um, don't believe everything you hear on the internet......

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Sound Installation and Robert Barry

I discovered an interview with Robert Barry in which he futher describes the Carrier Wave pieces. Here is a snippet:

" father made these little carrier wave transmitters where, in the immediate area, say of the gallery, all radio waves would just simply be completely silent. If you walked in with a portable radio, the station would just go silent, because my little carrier wave was blotting it out. Then the second group of transmitters put a little signal on, kind of a whistle, so that when you entered the gallery, if you had a little radio, you could hear this little whistle which would come on your radio, which would also blot out the other radio stations, but it would blot them out with this particular signal. And the farther away from the gallery you got the weaker it was."

This clarifies a bit - it appears that the works actively interfered with local radio, to the point of blocking all transmission, not just on one frequency.

Barry also remarks further on the Inert Gas pieces in this interview.

Apparently he also created some sound pieces in the 70's and 80's...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

On Robert Barry

Dan Flavin's Lights, Donald Judd's Boxes, James Turrell's Skypieces and Visual Fields....these are conceptual, but still objects. They may be reproducible by rather simple means (i.e. you could do it yourself), but they are still objects. When you purchase them, you are purchasing both the object and the idea behind that object. Out there, but still tangible. Well, check this out.

I've been reading over a book by Alexander Albero, titled Conceptual Art and the Politics of Publicity. Many interesting topics are discussed (including the role of dealers in the product of art, and the conceptualists reaction to this). Many artists are also discussed - including Robert Barry.

Barry was perhaps the most conceptual of the conceptual artists, moving quickly from sculpture to ideas to art with no easily perceptible presence.

The first works that I'll discuss are from the exhibit "January 5-31, 1969" at Siegelaub in NYC. The titles are 88 mc Carrier Wave (FM) and 1600 kc Carrier Wave (AM). Both works utilized hidden transmitters that only sent carrier waves with no modulation. The carriers waves were used as the object, rather than a transmitter of information, as is customary. Normally, the carrier wave is inaudible and invisible to the process of transmitting audio/radio. The waves are still inaudible, but have been stripped of the carrier function that they normally hold.

As Barry notes:

"Ultrasonic sound waves have different qualities from ordinary sound waves. They can be directed like a beam and they bounce back from a wall. Actually, you can make invisible patterns and designs from them. They can be diagrammed and measured." (Meyer, Ursula. Conceptual Art. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1972, pg. 37))

But measurement of this was up to the audience, and who brings a transistor radio with them to an art gallery? All that existed to mark the work was a simple label on the wall.

This was followed in 1969 (April) in Los Angeles with a series of pieces that involved the release of inter gasses (so they won't combine with other gasses - i.e. they will maintain their chemical composition) released into the air in the Mojave Desert. The art objects included photos of the release site (the gasses were utterly invisible) and a poster/advertisement that directed the audience to a phone number, where a recording describing the work was played. The only visible evidence of the art itself was the poster!

Here is a link to some of Barry's newer work:


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Be wary what you request via Interlibrary Loan....

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."
Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

(click on title of the post to go to the full story)


While not directly related to music, this is very disturbing. We can't even research history - good or bad - without attracting notice from the govt.? They've got a bit too much time on their hands if they are tracking ILL requests!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The ensemble....

What does it mean to compose music for large ensemble today?

In many ways, big groups like Orchestras, Choirs or Wind Bands are aberrations: they rose to prominence in the 1800's (later for Wind Ensemble) and have been museum pieces ever since. Most Americans get exposed to orchestral sound only through television and the movies, and often these sounds have been produced electronically. And in the end, they are still drawing on opera and classical/romantic tradition.

So what is the "ultimate" music making group? In other words - what would composers today aspire to write for? Is it for small, chamber ensemble? Solo instrument? Installation/non traditional space? Still large ensemble?

And what about performers? What do they aspire to? Solo success or ensemble prowress?

Personally - I write for what I think best expresses the idea of the piece itself. For the most part it is electronic production, or for four or fewer performers. But my aesthetic is generally evolving to a quieter, more delicate (but NOT flute!) overall approach - maybe I'm jsut reacting to hearing a lot of Rock lately.

What about you? What are your thoughts?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

"You shouldn't have to justify your work" - Judy Chicago

I just got back from my first conference in a long time. It was, I'm sad to say, the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic.

For those that don't know - Midwest is HUGE, taking up two entire hotels in Chicago, and providing a forum for directors to share ideas - or at least, that is the idea. I found it a bit commercial and a little distasteful. But I didn't stay long - I literally only had a day I could spare in btween finals (another gripe that I have with it is the scheduling).

My purpose in attending was as part of a composers roundtable - I wasn't there to talk compostion, but technology (I didn't get to talk in either session - a colossal waste of $$ on my part). I was dumbfounded by some of the things I heard the student composers say about composition.

First, they (rightly) claimed that Wind Ensemble was a better ensemble to compose for than the Orchestra. While none of them said it in so many words, the relative lack of hundreds of years of tradition is less limiting than composing for Orchestra. Also, with many decent Wind Bands in the schools, performances are more likely to happen.

Now for the fun part. The first composer (I'll keep this anonymous), "Bob", said that his melody come to him in a dream. The second, "Andy" claimed to have written his piece at the age of 17. "Frank" had his melody come to him while walking down the street (and those of you who know me know that I use this EXACT example of a compositional falsehood - it just doesn't happen that way - I guess I was wrong!). Finally, "Jason" wrote his 20 minute long piece in about one month - but I liked his the best in the end.

The best part of the trip, by far, was Berghoff's. Thanks for the great beer, Dario!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

EARS - What is it?

The internet is a wild, wild place.

As part of my preparation each semester, I spend some time finding interesting corners of the web that I might be able to share with my students. Teaching Rock and Roll and ElectroAcoustic music means that there are any number of pages that come and go very quickly!

One of the more interesting links that I've found is EARS: ElectroAcoustic Music Resource Site. This site, run by Leigh Landy at DePauw University, attempts to be an all-inclusive site, with a massive bibliography, glossary and an excellent index.

I was incredibly excited as I began to explore this site last year. Here was the beginnings of a very valuable resource, particularly for its bibliography.

Unfortunately, I found it to be anything BUT comprehensive. For instance, while there are sections on EA analysis and Sonograms, there is no mention of Robert Cogan's influential and pioneering work in the field. Further examination finds no mention of Roger Reynolds, or for that matter, many US scholars, composers and history.

It was at this time that I discovered that the site was run by Leigh Landy.

Now, I don't mean to be petty at all - and it is important for the reader to note that I relate the following story to illustrate my concerns, but not to "get back" at Landy in any way.

Landy reviewed "Electroacoustic Music: Analytical Perspectives" (Tom Licata, Greenwood Press 2002), a collection of essays, including my own essay on Joji Yuasa's The Sea Darkens..., in MLA Notes Volume 60, No. 1 (September, 2003). His review took exception with the book, but in particular, the analyses that included Spectrographic analysis, a la Cogan. I communicated with Landy, as his main point seemed to be that this sort of analysis depends too much on the technology and not enough on the experience of listening. My response was that the Sonograms provide only a visual representation of the physical sound, and that the analysis, my own in particular, was built entirely by listening carefully to the work. And I find this to be a much more powerful form of analysis than score analysis, as we now analyze musical output.

At any rate, it became clear that we disagreed on this point. Landy was only interested (in the review) in the essays in which the composers either shared sketches or actually wrote the essay. The essays in which there was any sort of analysis by someone else were heavily criticised by Landy.

Perhaps not coincidentally, it is precisely this type of scholarship that is entirely missing from EARS. This is disappointing, and I've already contacted them to share my dismay that some very important scholarship was missing. I recieved a response that claims that an additional 350 items are due to be updated in January and encouraging me to submit a bibliography.

Rest assured, I will.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The "Industry"

Perhaps the biggest story in music this year has been the ongoing battle between the music industry and the public (some of whom download). This story has recently taken a turn beyond simple retalitation for illegal downloading, as SonyBMG distributed a number of titles by a range of artists that contained a particularly malicious bit of code called a "rootkit."

I don't want to get in to the technology - for more, see:

Mark's Sysinternals Blog

The date on this discovery is Oct 31st, 2005. Sony quickly released a patch to disable the technology, but some hackers were able to send a virus that exploited this technology, leading to an eventual recall on all discs that contained the DRM software.

Another development, much more recent, and much more disturbing, is that Warner issued a cease and desist letter to a software developer to stop distributing his software. What did this software do? It allowed the user to compile and find lyrics to their favorite songs by searching publically available websites. This matches the movement that the labels have undertaken recently to take down lyric sites.


What is the message that we, the listening public gets from these tactics? First - these tactics perpetuate the "us vs. them" mentality that seems rather pervasive among the public. The labels are the enemy, dictating to us what we hear and keeping "authentic" music from the marketplace. See: Robert Stigwood (who saddled us with Disco).

Far more disturbing, to me at least, are the ownership complications that arise. When you purchase a CD, you are not allowed to copy it, play it publically, sample it or profit in any way from it. It is also becoming much more difficult for those of us that make digital copies for analysis and archiving to work with the material. In addition, don't even think about transcribing the lyrics or sharing them with friends.

In the end, when you spend $15-20 on a CD, the only rights that you have are personal - you are renting the music. You can't share it, and I wonder how long it will be before we aren't allowed to talk about the music with friends (let alone at an academic conference).

Saturday, December 10, 2005


As this is my first post on Sonic Event, I'll provide the welcome!

My goal for this space is to provide a home for musings, discussion and sharing ideas about new and experimental music, art and multimedia. I'd like to keep this somewhat free of the extensive jackassery that I usually engage in, but, knowing me, a bit of that will occur from time to time.

At any rate - welcome, and be sure to wipe your feet at the door.
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