Tuesday, February 24, 2015

MMmusing's 10th (base 8) Anniversary!

If we lived in a base-8 world, today would be the 10th anniversary of MMmusing! As it is, since most of us include our thumbs when counting, today will be more properly be understood as the blog's 8th anniversary, but that's still something. January and February have traditionally been hibernating months here (check the archives to the right), but I'm back just in time with a strange little video that maybe should've stayed underground.

Some quick background: in the run-up to the Oscars last week, we ended up watching "The Theory of Everything", the Stephen Hawking bio-pic that was up for Best Picture. It's an enjoyable movie, though a bit too smooth and elegantly packaged for my tastes, but I did find one little scene particularly enjoyable - enough so, that I made my own iPhone bootleg of the scene as it streamed on my laptop:

Poor Emily Watson didn't have much else to do in the movie, but she nailed this scene, which seemed to me the perfect thing one might e-mail out to that potential church choir recruit. In fact, I made my own looping page for anyone who wants to try that out. (It leaves out Felicity Jone's clever, though possibly too perfect, reply.)

Because that resulted in me hearing the bit repeated over and over, I started wondering if it could be subject to the "speech-to-song effect" described quite memorably in this fun Radiolab "sometimes behave so strangely" segment. The idea is that a phrase repeated over and over can start to sound more like music than speech, partly because such repetition is a common musical device, but also because pitch and rhythm are important (if often taken for granted) parts of speech. It turns out that, at least for me, because Watson's speech is so whispered and relatively unmodulated, it didn't convert to a tune quite as easily as I'd hoped, though the rhythmic cadences are quite musical, and the tea-cup percussion adds a lovely counterpoint.

Anyway, I did come up with this, for better or for worse. There's an old saying, worth repeating: "there's humor in repetition." Perhaps there's music in repetition as well.

So: Happy MMmusing Day! If you don't want to join the choir, perhaps you'll enjoy something found on this interactive, annotated bibliblography.

P.S. For an example of spoken phrases used really effectively as musical phrases, there is Steve Reich's wonderfully inventive Different Trains. "From Chicago to New York..." starts at about 35 seconds in.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Der Schaufelmann

Spending 3-5 hours a day shoveling snow gives one lots of time to reflect. Inevitably, for me over the past week, those reflections turned to ways in which winter has been expressed through music, and though the likes of Vivaldi, Liszt, and Debussy have tried their hand at depicting the harshness of the season in sound, it occurred to me that no one really understood the loneliness of standing out in the freezing cold like Schubert. He wrote a whole song cycle about it. The poignant final song is supposedly about a pitiful hurdy-gurdy player standing out in the freezing cold and providing a nice metaphor for the poet's hopeless love life, but I felt a one-ness with the futility of the hurdy-gurdiest while tackling the white stuff these past fews days - and my time spent moving snow around (as the snow kept falling, and knowing the snowplows would come and push more back into my driveway) provided the mental time and framework for me to re-translate Wilhelm Müller's grim words for the common man. Here you go, winter.