What better way to relax before a concert (Musselburgh Grammar New Year Concert – a neologism brought upon us by adverse weather at Christmas) than messing about with words. Driving home from school, I heard an article on Radio 4’s Open Book about Google’s Ngram software. Basically, this allows you to chart the popularity of a word between 1800 and now in books – approx 15 million of them.
It’s interesting to discover how words grow legs of their own, independent of their original coinage. For a bit of fun, try to predict (before clicking) which of the following words is the only one to enjoy a rise in popularity in last 200 years: heaven, hell, limbo, purgatory.
Can it be used to spot societal trends? Naomi Alderman pointed out, during the programme, the decline of “I must” compared to the rise of “I want.” Chart, though, the counter-intuitive progress of the word celebrity.
I wonder if one day an equivalent will appear for monitoring historical trends in music. What do you think the unit should be? Note? Chord? Voicing? And the method of input?
The use of the word music is interesting. It rose during WW2, peaking sharply around the late 1950s before falling sharply.
p.s. I suspect that neologism is not really a suitable term for a phrase, as opposed to a word. What should one use?
p.p.s I also realise that falling sharply is a musical contradiction – he said, voice rising flatly…
I must be getting younger and here’s what draws me to this unlikely conclusion. Have you ever had the experience where, relating an event and estimating its vintage, you discover that it took place, say, eleven years ago and not five? Does the tempo of life’s passing seem to hit home at such moments? Well, this morning I had the opposite experience. I heard that today marks the five-year anniversary of the official launch of YouTube – the Beta version having emerged some seven months earlier. I couldn’t believe it! Youtube – the third most visited website, after Google and Facebook – seems to have been part of my life for longer than I can remember. I can recall who first told me about Google and Facebook, but I don’t recall being led to YouTube – it just seemed always to be there.
What better way to mark this occasion than to stumble upon (if our networked world still permits such electronic happenstance) a video of the recording of a version of John Cage‘s 4′ 33′ by Cage Against The Machine (CATM). I’ll let The Guardian explain the provenance.
This much misunderstood and maligned piece is thought to be about silence – and only that. However, Cage’s intention was to allow listeners the time and space to notice and enjoy life’s everyday sounds, which we often take for granted, undervalue and ignore.
This film has some nice touches: introductory remarks to the musicians; performances phoned in by artists not available on the day of recording (4:00 into film); a variety of responses to the situation – some having fun, others perhaps a little self-conscious and some looking reflective/reverential. I’m no authority, but I suspect that John Cage would have been happy at recent events and would have smiled at those in the film, smiling and swaying, arm in arm and in time.
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p.s. Re the title of this post – have a look at the story of CATM (the text on grey background) here.