Category Archives: TV links

Of paperless-chases and half-lives

One of the joys of reading and writing blogs is the feeling of things linking together. The apparent link between ideas, topics, resources etc. may be ephemeral or even illusory, but who cares? If it sparks some vaguely creative thinking then its half-life has not been in vain. The following paperless-chase occurred within the space of a few hours:

Alex Ross, award winning author of The Rest Is Noise, flagged up two interesting videos on minimalist composer Steve Reich. These were housed courtesy of Pitchfork who also have an archive of music videos, including this creative piece entitled Furr by Blitzen Trapper. The video style reminded me somewhat of Terry Gilliam and The Mighty Boosh – but also of the excellent explanatory videos offered up by Common Craft. What I feel these three sources of video have in common (no pun intended) has to do with the following phrase:

“you make it look so easy!”

This phrase, depending on inflection, can point in two opposing directions:

  • you have made this look so easy that I feel inspired to have a go

  • it’s easy for you – there’s no way I’ll ever be able to do that

Now, it’s difficult to say how much of this is in the mindset of the beholder as opposed to the intention of the practitioner, but the collage-based, low-budget (in the most positive sense of the word) work of the above people seems, to me at any rate, to embody the spirit of the former interpretation.

That’s why, a few hours later, I was inspired to see this post on the blog of David Gilmour – the technical brains* behind eduBuzz. What struck me particularly were the plans to use Flip video in primary schools. It’s clear that the aforementioned, collage-based videos are the fruit of skillful, painstaking and artistic editing as opposed merely to point-and-shoot but, nevertheless, I feel that the mood and spirit of them is what is being hoped for. It’s certainly what I imagine in my hope that primary school instrumentalists (and those responsible for them) can be convinced to film their definitions of musical concepts for wordia.

Those who have winced at the awful and forced puns I’ve contrived to use as blog post titles over the last couple of years will hopefully share my admiration for the titular imagination of this fantastic film, directed by Erik Werner. The song, by Christian Kiefer, comes from the album Of Great and Mortal Men – 43 Songs for 43 U.S. Presidents and the song is called Washington Dreams of the Hippopotamus.

* it is possible that being known as “the technical brains” can suggest that the bearer is at one remove from the inspiration, ideology and artistry of a project – in the case of David Gilmour and eduBuzz, nothing could be further from the truth.


Fair use policy

Thnigs have been quiet in the last few days on this blog, and may continue to be so for the following reason: I do the writing, research, posting at home. Two of these require a working Internet connection. Unfortunately, we are being penalised by the fair use policy for having exceeded our monthly limit. This is no doubt due to a fondness for listen again and downloading from BBC iPlayer. The punishment manifests itself in a connection speed which makes dial-up seem like the speed of light. Emails are just about accessible but most websites take so long to open that a time out comes into effect.

I won’t embarrass the provider by citing their name – suffice to say it rhymes with Scoopanet.  However, I feel justified in this moan: surely with today’s technology, an automated early warning system is not out of the question – we could have avoided this.

So, I’m squeezing this post at school before tackling some tricky page layout issues for the next East Lothian Guitar Ensemble arrangement. Have a nice weekend(s)!

To paraphrase Arnie, “I’ll be Bach”

Jadran Duncumb

I don’t normally watch BBC’s Young Musician of the Year – not because I don’t enjoy watching talented young people perform, but more because I find the competitive element a little distasteful. While I acknowledge that many a great career has been launched this way, I’d rather just enjoy the performance. This is now possible thanks to the BBC providing video footage. The videos contain far more of each soloist’s programme than broadcast time could possibly allow. May I recommend this fine performance by Jadran Duncumb on guitar. Once there, you’ll be able to navigate your way around the other performances and interviews.

Axis of time

In last night’s edition of Horizon, entitled How Your Memory Works, neuroscientist Dr. Donna Addis of Harvard University showed MRI scans highlighting similarities in brain activity when volunteers were either reflecting upon the past or imagining the future. It would appear that these two areas are sufficiently related to provide an axis of time along which we enjoy freedom of movement. As if to corroborate the findings, one of programme’s other subjects, suffering from considerable memory impairment, turned out to have little vision of the future.

Of all the time arts (music, performance poetry, dance, mime, film, theatre, animation) instrumental music is perhaps the one which relies most heavily upon this axis, as narrative thrust cannot be helped along by language, image, location etc. I should imagine, awareness of the axis is heightened when one progresses from appreciation to performance and, perhaps, eventually to musical arrangement & composition. Midway through a crescendo, for example, a performer ought to have some idea of the beginning and end volumes. The feeling of inevitability wrought by composers into the arrival of the big tune is often organically achieved by seeds sown earlier in the work and (unconsciously) noted by the listener. Beethoven and Sibelius are both famed for their rigorous attention to this aspect of form.

Does the study of music simply employ this axis or is it able to enhance it in any way? If indeed possible, is enhancement necessarily a good thing? Would it be possible to prove music’s role in this area? Is there any current research into this area?

Sacred Music

Why should religious music be of interest to our largely secular society? BBC 4’s Sacred Music, presented by Simon Russel Beale, visited Notre Dame de Paris to show how two innovations of the 12th Century Notre Dame School underpin what has since come to be known as western classical music.

Members of early music specialist choir, The Sixteen and their director Harry Christophers, demonstrated music’s journey from homophonic (Int 2 concept) plainchant (H Music concept) to polyphony (Int 2 concept). Their lively, committed performances, which maximised the acoustics of Notre Dame’s Gothic architecture made it possible to believe that contemporary listeners would have experienced something of the vitality of the Punk revolution in the 1970s. This fresh approach was pioneered by Léonin and developed by his successor Pérotin.

Aside from the obvious connectivity between music and architecture, the links between music and science (notably physics) were explored. Composers, deciding which notes would best fit those already present in the setting of the plainchant would choose intervals (an Int 2 concept), in order, from the harmonic series i.e. 8ve, 5th & 4th. Although the triad had not yet become the building block of Western harmony, the foundations of the genre had been laid.

Musicologist, Helen Deeming, enthusiastically outlined the possibilities afforded by the second innovation of the time, the development of musical notation. Although the words of the liturgy were written, the associated music was taught by rote and memorised. This meant that, were a new setting to be sent to another cathedral city, a singer, familiar with the music, would have to tag along to coach the choir. Now, the music could be sent and realised from afar.

There remain three more episodes of this promising series. Here are links to details of all episodes, an overview of the series and a reflection on the place of sacred music in a secular world.

Overview of the series

The four episodes: The Gothic Revolution; Palestrina And The Popes; Tallis, Byrd and The Tudors; Bach And The Lutheran Legacy

Richard Langham Smith, Head of Music at the Open University, writes eloquently on Sacred Music in a Secular World.

The longest oral tradition?

It’s not often you get a glimpse into – far less a listen to – pre-history. Michael Wood‘s The Story of India (BBC4 this evening – sadly not available on iPlayer) visited Brahmin priests in Kerala taking young trainees through vocal preparations for a 12-day celebration of Agni – the god of fire. The prayers being passed on pre-date language and possibly music, as experts could find no matching analogue. The nearest comparison was with birdsong. It was certainly very interesting to see and hear a few moments of these normally secret teaching sessions.It is claimed that what is being notated cannot be notated. I found this difficult to understand, feeling that a mix of pitch, duration and phonetics must be able to be transcribed – after all Janacek notated the melodies of the Czech language and Messiaen notated birdsong. However, weighing in with the heavy hand of invasive research, however tempting, is scarcely a sensitive response to the privileged invitation.

More on this topic in paragraph 11 of this link.

The Voice

The human voice – the primal instrument – how many of us know how it works? We can’t really see it in action and it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly why people should sound so different and so distinctive. If you have a spare 4 mins in the next 4 days, then I can’t recommend highly enough a passage from a programme put together by David Howard, professor of music technology at the University of York. He interviews Christella Antoni, a speech and language therapist who not only explains how various singers achieve their particular sound but also provides very convincing impressions of Katie Melua, Barbara Streisand, Ella Firzgerald, Anastasia & Ethel Merman.

Click on the programme link above and scroll forward to 14:53

I wish you better luck with the BBC iPlayer than I’ve been having this evening.