Posts Tagged ‘music’
“I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own”*…
Reaching the quietest square inch of land in the U.S. is literally a walk in the park. Well, a rainforest, to be precise. To find it, you hike along the Hoh River in the heart of Olympic National Park, past bigleaf maples carpeted in spike-mosses and around epiphytic ferns sprouting out of the saturated Northwest soil. Eventually you pass through the split trunk of a Sitka spruce to enter an even muddier, mossier, more verdant nook of the forest. Look to your left and you may notice a tiny red pebble resting on a mossy nurse log, marking 47°51’57.5″N, 123°52’13.3″W. That’s America’s quietest wild place.
The quietest inch isn’t a sound vacuum. It represents a place with a minimum of human-made noise. The discipline of acoustic ecology, which is dedicated to understanding the natural sounds that come through loud and clear when we’re not around, outlines an important distinction between sound and noise. The blip of water droplets from a forest canopy? Sound. The tinny din of Taylor Swift through smartphone speakers? Noise. For example, the inch, as it’s often called, is exposed to flute-like bugling from Roosevelt elk, the Morse-code chirp of the American Dipper, and assertive hooting from the endangered Northern Spotted Owl. The steady rush of the Hoh River rounding the shoulder of Mount Olympus whooshes nearby, and summer snowmelt punctuates the setting with staccato droplets. In spite of the natural sound, dense forest engulfs the inch in a hush that is, at times, below 20 decibels—quieter than most recording studios…
* Chaim Potok, The Chosen
As we keep it down, we might spare a thought for Oscar Hammerstein; he died on this date in 1919. As a newly-arrived immigrant to the U.S., Hammerstein worked in a cigar factory, where he discovered ways to automate the rolling process. He patented his innovation and made a fortune– which he promptly reinvested in his true passions, music and the arts. Possessed of a sharp sense of design and an equally good acoustical sense, he built and ran theaters and concert halls, becoming one of Americas first great impressarios… a fact worth honoring, as history tends to overlook “Oscar the First” in favor of his grandson, Oscar Hammerstein II, the gifted librettist/lyricist and partner of Richard Rodgers.
“It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time”*…
Deirdre Loughridge and Thomas Patteson, curators of the Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments, explore the wonderful history of made-up musical contraptions, including a piano comprised of yelping cats and Francis Bacon’s 17th-century vision of experimental sound manipulation: “Cat Pianos, Sound-Houses, and Other Imaginary Musical Instruments.”
* Johann Sebastian Bach
As we tickle the ivories, we might spare a thought for Johann Nepomuk Maelzel; he died on this date in 1838. Remembered these days as the inventor of the metronome, Maezel was well-known in his own time as an inventor and impresario. He was especially well-known for his automatons– clock work trumpeters, chess players, miniature song birds, and the like that he exhibited widely. In 1804 Maezel invented a kind of “player orchestra,” the panharmonicon, an automaton able to play the musical instruments of a military band, powered by bellows, and directed by revolving cylinders on which the notes were stored. The “instrument” was admired across Europe, and earned its creator the post of imperial court-mechanician at Vienna, and the friendship of Beethoven (whom Maezel convinced to write Wellington’s Victory [Battle Symphony] Opus 91).
Unlike sex or hunger, music doesn’t seem absolutely necessary to everyday survival – yet our musical self was forged deep in human history, in the crucible of evolution by the adaptive pressure of the natural world. That’s an insight that has inspired Chris Chafe, Director of Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (or CCRMA, stylishly pronounced karma).
In his intensive, data-driven endeavour, Chafe takes the unnoticed rhythms of the natural world and ‘sonifies’ them, turning them into music – all the better to see how nature resonates with the music inside us. By pulling music out of the strangest places – from tomato plants, economic stats, even dirty air – he enables listeners to perceive phenomena viscerally, adding a new dimension of understanding to otherwise barely noticeable aspects of the world…
Read more– and hear some of Chafe’s work– at “Sonifying the World.”
* John Cage
As we muse of the music of the spheres, we might recall that it was on this date in 1954 that Sam Phillips‘ Sun Records released the first single by Elvis Presley, “That’s All Right (Mama)”/”Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
The tracks were covers that clued early listeners to the influences that Presley would marry with such power as he rose to royalty: “That’s All Right” is a blues song by Arthur “Big Boy” Cruddup, while “Blue Moon of Kentucky” is a bluegrass ballad by Bill Monroe.
But that stardom was still in the distance; while Presley’s renditions became instant hits in Memphis, hometown of both Elvis and Sun, the 45 received mixed reviews in the rest of what would become Presley’s kingdom.
“Any eavesdropping alien civilization will know all about our TV programs (probably a bad thing), will hear all our FM music (probably a good thing)*…
The speed of light, at which radio waves propagate into space, is fast– really fast– but it’s not instant. So what a space traveler would hear at ever-greater distances from Earth is an ever-older playlist of radio hits.
Hear them for yourself at Lightyear.fm.
* “FM signals and those of broadcast television…[travel] out to space at the speed of light. Any eavesdropping alien civilization will know all about our TV programs (probably a bad thing), will hear all our FM music (probably a good thing), and know nothing of the politics of AM talk-show hosts (probably a safe thing)…”
-Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Death By Black Hole, p. 172
As we aim for about 50 LY out, we might recall that it was on this date in 1850 that Harvard Observatory director William Cranch Bond and Boston photographer John Adams Whipple took a daguerreotype of Vega– the first photograph of a star ever made.
Ryan Richardson, one of the United States’ foremost collectors, archivists, and dealers of punk rock records and ephemera has given us a most welcomed gift. Richardson has uploaded the entire print run of the classic L.A. punk magazine, Slash, to his website Circulationzero.com…
The importance of Slash to the L.A. punk scene, and really to the worldwide punk scene in general, cannot be overstated. The writing of Claude “Kickboy Face” Bessy,Jeffrey Lee Pierce, and Chris D. helped to define the attitude and outlook of the nascent subculture, while the imagery of illustrators Gary Panter and Mark Vallen established punk as an art movement working outside of—but in conjunction with—the music scene. Photographers like Ed Colver and Jenny Lens provided essential documentation of the era, making names for themselves producing some of the most important rock photography ever captured…
More at “The Entire Run of Classic Punk Slash Magazine is Now Online.” [TotH to Richard Kadrey]
* “Questioning anything and everything, to me, is punk rock.” – Henry Rollins
As we ponder the pogo, we might recall that it was on this date in 1955 that that Bill Haley & His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock”reached number one on the Billboard charts– the first rock and roll record to ascend to the pinnacle.
Exactly one year later, Dick Clark began one of television’s longest-running stints as a host when he debuted Bandstand on WFIL, a Philadelphia TV station. The show was eventually picked up by ABC-TV and changed its name to American Bandstand.
“Wherever you go, I don’t care where you go, just send me something in the mail from where you are”*…
As we hit the road, we might sing “Happy Birthday” to Mildred J. Hill; he was born on this date in 1859. She wrote the music: In the early 1890s, she composed the tune which (with lyrics by her sister Patty) was called “good Morning to All” and was published in 1893 in Song Stories for the Kindergarten. In 1912, her music was appropriated (with lyrics by an unknown author) and published as “Happy Birthday”– which has gone on to become (according to the Guinness Book of Records) the most recognized song in the English language.
Famously tied up by copyright (to wit the rarity of its appearance on TV or in movies), Hill’s estate still receives royalties from it performance.
“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
Johnny Rotten aka John Lydon’s closing words at the last Sex Pistols gig (watch it online) seemed apt this week when Virgin Bank announced their current line of credit cards would feature the band’s signature artwork. That Jamie Reid’s famous cut-n-paste zine-cum-Situationalist aesthetic has turned into a bit of capitalist plastic for your wallet is an irony that the Sex Pistols might never have seen coming back in 1976, when they played the “gig that changed the world.”
Recreated above in a clip from Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, the June 4, 1976 gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall spawned the British punk movement and the post-punk movement that was soon to follow in a scant two years. For in the audience were future members of the Buzzcocks Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley (who organized the gig and opened for the Pistols); a nascent version of Joy Division; the two founders of Factory Records Martin Hannet and Tony Wilson; Mark E. Smith of The Fall, Mick Hucknall of Frantic Elevators and much later Simply Red; and a one Steven Patrick Morrissey, who would form The Smiths. (That’s Steve Coogan playing Tony Wilson in the clip, by the way.)…
More on that extraordinary evening– with audio clips of the Pistols’ performance– at “The Sex Pistols’ 1976 Manchester “Gig That Changed the World,” and the Day the Punk Era Began.”
* Jello Biafra
As we politely pogo, we might recall that it was on this ate in 2002 that Queen Elizabeth II issued her annual Honours List, on which she tapped 60-year-old Mick Jagger for a Knighthood.