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Posts Tagged ‘music

“Never miss a good chance to shut up”*…

 

 

Death metal band Dead Territory performing 4’33”, a 1952 composition by John Cage.

Written for any instrument or combination of instruments, the score instructs the performer(s) not to play their instrument(s) during the entire duration of the piece throughout the three movements.  Though often referred to as as “four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence,” the purpose of the piece is to focus the audience’s ears on the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed.

[TotH to The Whippet]

Black Sabbath, arguably the first heavy metal band, is turning 50 this year…

Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi credits a welding accident with the creation of the band’s signature sound. A machine at the factory where he worked as a teenager chopped off the tops of two of his fingers, which could have ended his guitar-playing days. But he fashioned thimbles with plastic and leather and put lighter-gauge strings on his guitar, down-tuned so they were looser and easier to play. The low, sludgy riffs he went on to write set the tone for metal music to this day…

The history of headbanging: “Heavy Metal.”

* Will Rogers

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As we savor the sounds of silence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1967, in Portland, that The Who began their first U.S. tour… as the opening act for Herman’s Hermits.  The Who played “Pictures of Lily” (a power-pop tune about masturbation) and their guitar-smashing finale, “My Generation” to warm the crowd for Peter Noone and his crew singing “There’s a Kind of Hush (All Over the World)” and “I’m Henry VIII, I Am.”

42321-photo-of-pete-townshend-and-who source

 

Written by LW

July 14, 2019 at 1:01 am

“We never live; we are always in the expectation of living”*…

 

0618_phone

 

Sure that hold music was annoying, grating, a punishment to brain cells, especially if it loops tightly or is particularly in-your-face, but you know what’d be worse? If there was no sound at all.

That was the point that a man named Alfred Levy made when he filed a patent application in 1962 for the “Telephone hold program system,” which is the very patent that led to the creation of hold music.

A 2014 Slate piece helpfully filled in the gaps on this story: Levy, a factory employee, stumbled upon the basic idea for hold music after a freak incident involving a wire and a steel girder. Oddly enough, when the wire touched the steel, it effectively turned the building into a giant radio, leading people on hold waiting for phone calls to actually hear music on the line, rather than waiting in silence.

It might sound far-fetched, but that’s the tale, apparently. Nonetheless, his patent filing, granted in 1966, does a great job of explaining why such a tool is necessary. He noted that switchboards and telephone operators increasingly were using hold buttons, which allow time to properly route calls through a switchboard. However, little consideration was being given to the person on the other end of the line, who understandably might get frustrated or concerned the call dropped if they don’t hear back after a while.

“Courteous telephone practice requires that a held caller be assured at reasonable intervals that the party to whom he wishes to speak still is busy but the pressure of her duties may prevent the operator from so advising the incoming caller so that he may be bereft of even this small consolation,” the patent filing stated. “In any event, listening to a completely unresponsive instrument is tedious and calls often are abandoned altogether or remade which leads to annoyance and a waste of time and money.”

A telephone hold system, he continues, is basically a way to pacify the person waiting for assistance, as it “assures the incoming caller that his call is being held and that he is not disconnected or forgotten.”

The timing of his invention was basically perfect, coming along right as the call center was making its first appearance

Via @ShortFormErnie and his always-illuminating Tedium, the unusual state of hold music, which works pretty much the opposite way that every other kind of music does, for reasons both technical and psychological: “Holding Patterns.”

* Voltaire

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As we wait, we might recall that it was on this date in 1976 that the CN Tower in Toronto opened.  At 1,815.3 ft it held the record for the world’s tallest free-standing structure for 32 years until 2007, when it was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa and was the world’s tallest tower until 2009 when it was surpassed by the Canton Tower.  In 1995, the CN Tower was declared one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. (It also belongs to the World Federation of Great Towers.)  It serves as a communications tower, the site of numerous broadcast (and reception) antennae for TV, radio, cell phone and microwave providers… and, of course, it is a signature icon of Toronto’s skyline.

480px-Toronto_-_ON_-_Toronto_Harbourfront7 source

 

Written by LW

June 26, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The piano ain’t got no wrong notes”*…

 

piano tuner

 

Once a staple of middle-class American homes, a piano in the living room has become a less common sight, as fewer people learn to play the instrument. And in a city where square footage (and privacy) are at a premium, devoting space to a 500-pound instrument may seem like a strange choice. Yet Michael “Mickey” Finn, a resident of Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, has been working full-time as a piano tuner in New York City for nearly 20 years.

Finn’s first job in the city was as a piano technician for the New York City Opera, before he became an independent tuner, working in private homes, in rehearsal rooms, and for institutional clients…

Finn speaks to Topic about his own musical education, how he started getting clients, and the song he plays to test his own work; illustrated with photos by Gus Powell, who followed him for several days as he tuned his way across town: “He’s Got the Keys to the City.”

* Thelonious Monk

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As we tickle the ivories, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948, three days after an announcement of the innovation at a press conference at the Waldorf-Astoria, that Columbia Records began mass production of the 33 1/3 RPM long-playing record.  The format, which allowed for over 20 minutes of music on a side, briskly overtook the 78 rpm format and dominated music sales well into the 1980s.  The popularity of the LP ushered in the “Album Era” of English-language popular music, beginning in the 1960s, as performers took advantage of the longer playing time to create coherent themes or concept albums.

440px-12in-Vinyl-LP-Record-Angle source

 

Written by LW

June 21, 2019 at 1:01 am

“My ambition was to live like music”*…

 

synth

 

Mary Hallock Greenewalt always wanted to be known as an inventor. Born on September 8, 1871, in Syria Vilayet—present-day Beirut—to a Syrian mother, Sara Tabet, and an American father, she was sent at age 11 to live with relatives in Philadelphia. She began her professional life as a pianist in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh orchestras but around 1905, when Greenewalt was in her mid-30s, she began to experiment with a new kind of instrument. It would be a feast for the senses, combining color with sound. During performances, Greenewalt would use the various pedals, switches, and keyboards on her machine—essentially an early synthesizer—to play songs that were synchronized with projected light. She called her modified organ the “Sarabet.”

Tinkering with that creation—and then defending her claims on the inventions—became her life’s work. Between 1919 and 1926, Greenewalt filed 11 patents with the United States Patent Office for inventions related to the Sarabet. In 1932, she successfully sued General Electric for copyright infringement on the rheostat, a device she patented that varied the resistance of the electricity in the Sarabet.

Greenewalt and her inventions may not be widely known to most musicians today, but they were essential to the creation of many electric instruments, in particular the synthesizer, which would revolutionize the music industry in the 1960s…

Mary Hallock Greenewalt received 11 patents for her “color organ,” an early form of synthesizer. She would spend the rest of her life defending them: “Industrial Light and Magic.”

* Mary Gaitskill

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As we celebrate synesthesia, we might recall that it was on this date in 548 that “Hank Morgan” found himself transported from late 19th century America to 6th century England… in Mark Twain’s marvelous A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

440px-Connecticut_Yankee4_new

Frontispiece of the 1889 first edition, by Daniel Carter Beard

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“In so far as the mind sees things in their eternal aspect, it participates in eternity”*…

 

Hay

David Ramsay Hay’s mapping of color onto musical notes, a diagram from his The Laws of Harmonious Colouring (1838)

 

“All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.” So wrote the Victorian art critic Walter Pater in 1888. Earlier in the century, Scottish artist David Ramsay Hay composed a series of fifteen books published between 1828 and 1856 that attempted to develop a theory of visual beauty from the basic elements of music theory. Anticipating Pater but also fin-de-siècle attempts to unite the arts via spiritual or synesthetic affinities, Hay’s writings mapped colors, shapes, and angles onto familiar musical constructs such as pitches, scales, and chords. While these ideas might appear highly eccentric today, an understanding of them offers a glimpse of the remarkable importance of music to the Victorian Zeitgeist…

Hay’s approach to visual aesthetics was equally applicable to architecture, color theory, the ornamental arts, and the human face and figure. It can be understood as a psychological account of beauty, as opposed to other contemporary theories that anchored beauty in notions of the picturesque, the mimetic, or the sublime. Though analogies between music and the fine arts certainly do not originate with Hay, his application of music theory to an extensive array of visual experiences including color, shapes, figures, and architecture broke new ground. Rather than locating musical properties in the objects themselves, as earlier thinkers ranging from Plato to Newton had done, Hay worked in the post-Kantian tradition, regarding these features as immanent to our own minds, where they create our experience of beauty by determining the very structure of our perceptions…

Throughout his writings, Hay consistently links the claim that a single fundamental law of nature determines aesthetic perception to the work of the philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras…

Understanding the same laws to apply to both visual and aural beauty, David Ramsay Hay thought it possible not only to analyze such visual wonders as the Parthenon in terms of music theory, but also to identify their corresponding musical harmonies and melodies: “Music of the Squares: David Ramsay Hay and the Reinvention of Pythagorean Aesthetics.”

* Baruch de Spinoza

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As we excavate the essential, we might send elegantly-composed birthday greetings to Mary Cassatt; she was born on this date in 1844.  An American printmaker and painter, she moved to Paris as an adult, where she developed a friendship with Edgar Degas and became, as  Gustave Geffroy wrote in 1894, one of “les trois grandes dames” of Impressionism (with Marie Bracquemond and Berthe Morisot).

Self-portrait, c. 1878

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Written by LW

May 22, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected”*…

 

populationmap

Change in population aged 65 and older, 2010-2023. [Screenshot: ESRI]

 

We’re all getting older. It’s the one thing that every single person alive right now has in common. But we’re also getting older as a population, with Americans both living longer and having fewer children. Census projections show a major demographic shift already underway and accelerating in the years to come.

At the same time, populations are not aging evenly, and issues related to aging will impact individual communities in vastly different ways, boosting economic opportunity in some areas while putting a strain on social services in others.

For instance, real estate developers that invest in progressive senior housing projects now could benefit down the road as demand for modern facilities that cater to active seniors grows. Similarly, American tech companies will see opportunity in developing innovative high-tech solutions for senior care, such as health-monitoring devices, ride-share services aimed at seniors, and care-bots. (Take a look at how Japan has embraced high-tech solutions for its aging population for more on how that might play out in the United States.)

On the flip side, social safety nets are likely to face increasing financial challenges with the continued retirement of America’s Baby Boomers, the youngest of whom will reach 67 by 2031. As that happens, rural counties—where people on average rely on Social Security as a larger portion of their overall income—may disproportionately feel the economic effects of aging.

One way to sort out who will be most impacted by aging is to look at age demographics across the country and how they will change over time…

America is aging, but not evenly: “7 maps that tell the incredible story of aging in America.”

See also this essay by Don Norman, the 83 year-old dean of user-centered design (author of The Design of Everyday Things and a former VP at Apple): “I wrote the book on user-friendly design. What I see today horrifies me.”

* Robert Frost

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As we stand up to senescence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1965 that Peter Townsend wrote “My Generation”– inspired by the Queen Mother, who’d had his 1935 Packard hearse towed off a street in Belgravia because she was offended by the sight of it during her daily drive through the neighborhood.  The song was released as a single later that year and became first a hit, then an anthem.

 

Written by LW

May 19, 2019 at 1:01 am

“A very merry Unbirthday to you!”*…

 

Ted bday

 

There’s been a good deal of understandable concern over online platforms and the dangers that they present to our health, both personal and civic.  But occasionally it’s good to remind ourselves that there are services they provide that are genuinely crucial– e.g., Is Today Ted Danson’s Birthday?

* Alice in Wonderland

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As we go to The Good Place, we might recall that it was on this date in 1965 that the FBI exonerated “Louie Louie,” declaring that the lyrics of the 1963 recording by The Kingsmen– widely rumored to be “dirty”– were in fact simply indecipherable.  After analyzing the disc at its intended 45 rpm and also at 33 1/3 and 78, and interviewing a member of the band, the FBI Laboratory declared the lyrics to be officially “unintelligible at any speed.”

In fact the song’s creator, Richard Berry, had released “Louie Louie” to mild regional success– and no lyrical controversy– a decade earlier.  But the FBI’s verdict notwithstanding, a cloud hovered over the tune: in 2005, the superintendent of the Benton Harbor, Michigan school system refused to let the marching band at one of the schools play the song in a parade; she later relented.

from the FBI’s “Louie Louie” file

source

 

Written by LW

May 17, 2019 at 1:01 am

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