Saturday, January 20, 2018

Re-Inventing Bach

A couple of days ago, my blogging pianist friend Erica pointed me to a new edition of Bach's Two-Part Inventions in which the right hand and left hand parts are switched.

This is a fun idea, although I think referring to these inventions as "inverted" is a bit misleading because the notes still all go in the same directions. It's just a matter of shifting one part down a few octaves and the other up. However, you could say that having an idea like this tossed my way was like having a pebble tossed into a pond. A Lilypond, to be precise.

Because all of the Inventions are readily available online in Lilypond format, I snagged the notes for the F Major Invention No. 8 demo'd above and, because Lilypond is magic, did some quick little operations to:
  • truly invert the two parts (down is up and up is down)
  • play the original backwards (retrograde)
  • combine the inversion and retrograde operations
The results are more satisfying than I expected, although I admittedly have quirky tastes. Of course, Bach's tonal relationships work in such a way that flipping things upside down distorts a lot of the original context. Major often becomes sort of minor, final chords end up without the root on the bottom, etc. But I decided not to try to "fix" anything, but rather remain perversely faithful to the original. One might think of these "compositions" or "variations" as negative space defined by what Bach actually wrote. 

There are dissonant moments that sound like they could come straight from a 20th century contrapuntal master like Shostakovich, but I also think the pure energy of Bach shines through. Rather than write much more about them now, I'll just present this little "Theme and Variations" for your enjoyment (variations 2-4 are where the real fun begins):






Again, even if you don't like everything, I hope you'll find a few passages here and there to spark your interest.

Here's another example of me re-inventing some Bach:

Monday, January 8, 2018

Trumped up G & S

For some strange reason, this is the second year in a row in which my first blog post features our opera buffa presidency as material for...comic opera! You may recall that the ever-tweeting Trump recently described himself as a "very stable genius," and this has inspired a series of Twitter verses inspired by the ever-parodied Modern Major General song from The Pirates of Penzance.

A friend of mine suggested last night that I should try my hand at this. As I wrote on Facebook:
I said to myself upon hearing this challenge: "Resist!" .... I failed.
Honestly, my verses could use some work, but I'm proud of sticking with a single rhyme for all 24 lines - something even Gilbert didn't do. (I did depart from the Genius-General connection since that already seemed to have been mined a good bit.) I figured for blogging purposes I might as well make a singalong video since social media loves multimedia, so here's a hastily realized combo of text and tune:

If you know the tune and just want to read the words, you'll find them below.

Strangely, enough, this is my fifth Trumpopera creation. You can view them all, quirky as they are, via this playlist:

Relevant blog posts are here and here.

Happy New Year!

I am the very model of a modern US president.
I tweet my every thought without a thought for any one’s consent.
I know the mainstream media is something I can circumvent
Because no news is bad news, I just constantly sow discontent.

I never bothered learning how to follow legal precedent.
I’d rather cheat, harass, and lie. I see no reason to repent.
America will once again be great though lib’rals will lament:
It’s really only great if you are part of the top one percent.

It’s really only great if you are part of the top one percent.
It’s really only great if you are part of the top one percent.
It’s really only great if you are part of the top one, top one percent.

I’ll build a wall to keep out all the people who don’t represent
The folks like me who’d never be a sad illegal immigrant.
In short, I’m tall and great and went to Washington where I was sent
To be the very model of a modern US president.

~ ~ ~

To towers, steaks, and one great university my name I’ve lent.
My businesses are bigly cause I spent and spent and overspent.
I fired a lot of people who did not deserve employ-a-ment.
It made for great TV and made me famous as a malcontent.

I never really earned a thing not given by my par(a)ent,
But I know how to back out of a deal, I just don’t pay the rent.
I’ve got a button and will cause an internat’nal incident -
By making inappropriate remarks about the Orient.

By making inappropriate remarks about the Orient.
By making inappropriate remarks about the Orient.
By making inappropriate remarks about the Ore, the Orient.

I’ve had three wives; my new one has a European a(a)ccent,
But otherwise I do not trust a foreign-sounding resident.
In short I’m tall and great and went to Washington where I was sent
To be the very model of a modern US president.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

MMmerry Christmas!

slightly updated from 2015 with new [virtual organ] recording of Fugue in Royal David's City.

Thursday, November 30, 2017


Well, it's been awhile since I posted here, but 2017's not getting away that easily. This will be brief, but I've got a few more tricks up my sleeve before the new year.

I mentioned in my previous post from June how a Facebook discussion led me to do a quick mashup of music by Samuel Barber and The Who - because my pianist friend Tim is a passionate fan of neither. The same Tim wrote this week in response to a poll about "favorite string instruments":
...after spending thousands upon thousands of hours of my life with violins, violas, and cellos - my vote for best string instrument goes to Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Number One" Fender Stratocaster
Because I know that Tim's disdain for Barber has a lot to do with his having accompanied that composer's Violin Concerto thousands upon thousands of time, I thought I'd try to do a quick mock-up of Stevie Ray Vaughan playing the fiery final movement. (Same movement I paired with The Who!) Admittedly, my knowledge of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Stratocasters can basically be summed up as "electric guitar sounds," but Barber does most of the talking here anyway. The result is more prog rock (think ELP's Musorgsky or Yes's Brahms) than Stevie Ray, but I found that Barber's gritty, manic perpetual motion machine sounded "right" with the distorted guitar. It really does sound like a wild man riffing away, almost out of control, with a backing band that can barely stay with him.*

I only made a 30-second demo, and then posted that audio on Twitter - where it attracted zero attention because Twitter isn't any fun anymore. (That's a whole other story.) I figured maybe I could blog about it, but also figured I'd be better off putting it on YouTube since social media algorithms love video. And, yeah, I could've just added a random slideshow of Barber photos as is done here. But I thought it would be more fun to...well, things kind of evolved, and when I had the idea of animating Barber himself playing the guitar, I couldn't resist the challenge.

Honestly, doing this was more a proof-of-concept experiment than anything else. The syncing of animation and audio is far from perfect and I'm sure Virtual Barber's guitar technique is far from authentic, but I still think it sells the idea well enough, and I got to toy around with some basic animation concepts that have interested me. So, in the spirit of those great Switched-on-Bach records from the 70's, I present Switched-on-Barber:

What more can I say?
  • If nothing else, I feel like I'm perhaps the only person who would've done this - not just re-imagining the notes on guitar (easy enough), but pairing it with this sort of homemade animation. 
  • It's short! (But you won't be able to resist watching it at least a couple of times.) I don't see any reason for a full transcription as this gets the idea across.
  • If you're curious about the method behind my madness, I was able to get a quick start because someone out there has posted the MIDI for the piano accompaniment. I'm not sure it's all that accurate, but I just dumped that into Finale, then entered the violin notes (easy, because all the same rhythmic value) from this score video
  • To make the video, I used Scratch in a fairly crude re-working of the animation program I created for this Bach fugue. It was a big relief to remember that I'd written a Python script (even though I barely know Python) which imports notation from a Lilypond text file. I just exported the Barber notes from Finale to Lilypond via Music XML, ran the Python script, and I now had the notes needed to drive the Scratch animation. [I was just trying to write the geekiest paragraph in MMmusing history there. Hope you enjoyed it.]
  • If you like this sort of thing, here's a more complete electricalization of some Brahms

* For the record, I do really like the Barber Violin Concerto, although I've always found the final movement to be the least successful, like it's trying a little too hard to be edgy. So, naturally, I set out to make it edgier.

Monday, June 19, 2017

flotsam and jetsam...and covfefe

One of the inevitable byproducts of my peculiar way of being on social media is that I end up with all sorts of multimedia fragments produced in response to this or that. Many of them find their way here to the blog (such as this Bach Suite Boys bit now featured on Classic FM), but some don't seem quite postworthy - unless, I introduce them this way in a post about the unpostworthy!

A couple of weeks back, when the Trump covfefe tweet was having its fifteen seconds, I kept seeing musicians link to a little "covfefe" aria that ends with the famous Rite of Spring chord - which was fine and cute. But, I couldn't help speculating that the ambiguity of Trump's neologism deserved a similarly ambiguous musical context, so I suggested that Wagner's Tristan chord would be more appropriate.

Even though the story had long since blown over, I couldn't resist the challenge and decided I'd transition to Wagner from the much more conventional and comic Rossini - specifically, the opening of Almaviva's aria "Ecco ridente in cielo." One could make a case that this tenor aria is much too elegant and lyrical for this character, but I couldn't come up with a good transition from Figaro or Don Basilio, buffo characters more in the spirit of Don Trump. And I think the raspy synth voice makes up for it. Plus, the one bar of Rossini I quote is quite pedestrian, so it's more like Don Trump begins by trying to be profound and quickly finds himself completely lost.

Anyway, what we have here is a two-bar micro-composition. It's fragmentary for sure, though I think it can also stand on its own as a Tweetst├╝ck. (A German piano piece is often titled "Klavierst├╝ck.")

There's not really an original note here as all I've done is segue from one work to another, though I still think I deserve a finder's fee for showing how nicely this transition works. A quick history of 19th century opera in two bars. Short as it is, a Trump opera should have at least one tweet aria, so I've included it in my quirky Il trumpatore playlist.

And since I promised both flotsam and jetsam, here is something even briefer, which is nothing like a complete composition. Just a little proof of concept. In a Facebook discussion that had sprouted off from my Bach Suite Boys example, it occurred to me that one of the discussants is a big non-fan of The Who and Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto. So, just for T.B., I proposed a "Barber O'Riley" mashup that would combine Baba O'Riley and...well, you know. Because it's easy to do and because it's fun to do, I offered up only four bars, and here they are:

If there's anything valuable about this kind of exercise, it's showing how easily gestures from very different genres can cross over and work together. Sometimes ten seconds of audio are worth a thousand words - or at least a few dozen.