Saturday, April 29, 2006

Microsoft Excel

One aspect of technology that is far too often overlooked by the masses is its ability to do something other than its original intention. This figures strongly into electronic music, as the very construction of some technologies (like MIDI) are such that they can be easily subverted into new and exciting uses.

As one of the better examples of this I've seen recently, Danielle Aubert posted collections of drawings that she made using Microsoft Excel. That's right - a spreadsheet software. Many of us know it for its usefulness as a grading tool, but it has colors and lines and the ability to change the text as well. Using these simple tools, Danielle, a graphic design artist at Yale, made really interesting drawings. Mike Boyd - you might see some similarities to your own work in these!

I should also note that these are about a year old, so they aren't exactly breaking news, but they are interesting enough to share. Enjoy!!!

(Picture courtest of Neatorama and Danielle Aubert)

Thursday, April 27, 2006


A few interesting items culled from the web.

Do I really need to preface this story with a note about how rife the internet is with errors? Probably not. But I'm still surprised to see that nearly 900 websites include the following quotation:

"Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

So what's the rub?, you might ask....well, it is attributed to a Harold Thurman Whitman. This particular Whitman doesn't exist! The real author of this quote is Howard Thurman.


On to our next story:

What you see above is a spiderweb made by a spider under the effects of that oh-so-safe drug caffeine. That's right! No wonder I'm always so jittery! Source Source 2 Listing of Original Source

It's the end of the semester and you might be able to tell that I'm beginning to go stir-crazy!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Pulitzer Prize goes to...

Yehudi Wyner. One of the most conservative (but yet widely regarded) prizes in music composition lived up to its reputation, giving this year's award to Yehudi Wyner for "Chiavi in Mano", a piano concerto premiered in 2004. From the program notes:

" As in many of my compositions, simple, familiar musical ideas are the starting point. A shape, a melodic fragment, a rhythm, a chord, a texture, or a sonority may ignite the appetite for exploration. How such simple insignificant things can be altered, elaborated, extended, and combined becomes the exciting challenge of composition. I also want the finished work to breathe in a natural way, to progress spontaneously, organically, moving toward a transformation of the musical substance in ways unimaginable to me when I began the journey. Transformation is the goal, with the intention of achieving an altered state of perception and exposure that I am otherwise unable to achieve.

"Chiavi in mano" - the title of the piano concerto - is the mantra used by automobile salesmen and realtors in Italy: Buy the house or the car and the keys are yours. But the more pertinent reason for the title is the fact that the piano writing is designed to fall "under the hand" and no matter how difficult it may be, it remains physically comfortable and devoid of stress. In other words: "Keys in hand." --Yehudi Wyner, December 13, 2004

Now, I include this as an excellent example of how not to say anything in your program notes. There is no requirement that one's program notes be musically descriptive, but I'd at least hope that my fellow composers might consider that notes can direct the listening experience of the audience in profound ways. In the example above, Wyner begins with a short manifesto on composition, then includes a rather hilarious oxymoronic statement about a spontaneous progression in a written piece of music. I teach my own students to be cognizant of their work from the very beginning, and to have a clear idea of what they want to say. Without this focus, a lot of time can be wasted (in my opinion) by misguided explorations. I don't mean to suggest at all that experimentation has no place in composition (QUITE the opposite) but rather that a composers musical expression can be muddied most easily by not knowing what it is you're trying to say!

And finally - what is with that title? An easy piano concerto (I know I know, it isn't "easy", it just "feels good").

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Tibetan Debate

The Mystical Arts of Tibet, from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India (relocated in 1959), is a group of Tibetan Monks that travel the US, constructing elaborate sand mandalas, only to sweep them up, all in the name of World Peace. I was fortunate to see this group in 2000 in Washington DC, and again this week in Minnesota. While I find the mandala captivating and an amazing display of discipline, the monks also performed some traditional music and dance along with prayer music.

One part of their performance included a bit of Tibetan debate. While this is true debate, Tibetans have elevated it to a art form. Much more than the type of performance that we'd expect from laywers in an American court, the debate practice in Tibet includes a physical element. I have a short clip that I recorded on my cell phone from that performance (about 13 seconds long). This clip should be playable in either Quicktime or Real Player.

CLICK for video

The Fib

Haiku have rules that govern their construction, at least in terms of their syllabic content. Why not change the rules a bit?

GottaBook, a librarian and poet from LA, has devised a form that mirrors the Fibonacci Series! In this form, the number of syllables for each line goes as follows: 1 1 2 3 5 8.

Here is an example:

Spiraling mixture:
Math plus poetry yields the Fib.


Sunday, April 02, 2006

Kenny Barron - Jazz

A good benefit of living in Central Minnesota is actually that there isn't as MUCH live music as there was in Washington DC, so when bigger name acts come through, I'm usually free enough to see them. I got a free ticket to see jazz pianist Kenny Barron and his quartet perform.

Musically, they favored a "less is more" approach, which I absolutely appreciated. I'm not a very big fan of Jazz, but I can get into a group that knows that you don't have to cram a lot of notes into a short space. The biggest surprise for me was drummer Ben Riley, who was endlessly inventive on the set. At times playing only hi-hat, or only cymbals, or using timpani mallets, the guy had a great knack and feel, and was a big reason why I had such a good time. A few of his solos were truly minimal, an early one had probably 8 notes in 4 bars, and a notable one at the end had NO notes in 4 bars!

But the reason that I'm blogging about this on a "new arts" blog is that there was the most curious sonic image in the space. I sat about 4 rows from the front, to stage left. The sound of the piano, bass and drums all seemed to originate from thier locations - in other words, they were all slightly amplified, but each had a monitor that helped center the sound near to where the performers were.

The flautist, however, had a very strong sonic image coming from high up on stage left.

The result was a very strong visual/aural dissonance between seeing her, to my right and pretty much at eye level, and hearing her from my left and very high. I unfortunatly have no final explanation for this - it could have been that she was most heavily amplified and that was rerouted through the house sound, or it could be that hers was the only stage monitor turned backwards and therefore I was hearing a reflection.

At any rate, this was a little odd, and distracting as well. But nonetheless interesting! I'm not sure if a casual listener would have been as bothered by this, but it was striking to me.
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