Wednesday, July 30, 2008


...because King Lear isn't depressing enough.

Lots of good text collisions here - it's pretty much like reading the original. (Note: character names were removed, as was the frequently used "Pause.")

MMwordle Index: myTunes, myBlog, Abstract, King Lear, USA.

UPDATE: More detailed Endgame Wordle commentary here.

Declaration of Insanity

As I mentioned to commenter Gregory, I'm having a little trouble staying away from Wordle. I wish they allowed the user to define a shape for the image. Not to be denied, I tried bending an image to my will - it's not great, but here it is:

See previous posts for more Wordle insanity.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

...the last word(s)...

THIS is the last one for the day. (Silly me - I thought the last one was the last one.)

A Few Quick Observations: I love the way Lear's name intersects with "Exit" and "Fool." Also, it's telling that Cordelia, who's offstage for much of the play, thus has her name in smaller type than her wicked sisters. There's also a cool, and totally accidental, balancing in the way Edgar and Edmund's names are situated - same for in-laws Cornwall and Albany. Finally, if you look at the larger version, you'll see the subtle side-by-side pairing "head death," although remarkably there are no decapitations that I recall in this bloodbath of a play. Other nice coincidences: "Good Kent," "Fool speak let" and "fool daughters."

Take Home Point: One can easily find "meaning" in all sorts of unintended places. That may have interesting ramifications for how people "hear" really complex and/or aleatoric music, by the way... but I'm on hiatus.

Abstract Abstract

Just one more . . .

This is really the last one for the day, but this idea of word clouds has consumed me. I recently wrote a fairly lengthy paper that I hope to break down into blog form at some point. In the meantime, here it is in wordcloud form. As always, you may click on the image to see more detail. Looks like the paper had something to do with music . . .

MMmusing at a Glance

So I said I would stop myself at two wordles of my iTunes library - but, I didn't say I'd stop wordling. Here, in another blatantly transparent attempt to get people to dig into the MMarchives, I present the MMmusing Wordle. The words were all collected from the Guide to MMmusing index. As with the previous two wordles, you may see a larger version by clicking on the image below.

myTunes at a glance

I'm generally not a big fan of blog memes, but The Omniscient Mussel has come up with one of the best I've seen - I've already spent much too much time generating my own iTunes typopictograph. Her idea is to export an iTunes library as a text file and then send it through the amazing Wordle. This I have done - more than once. There are obviously some odd little quirks - Britten shows up more than might be expected here because I once used an iTunes giftcard to splurge on a big Britten-conducts-Britten opera set. That's a lot of tracks that list him as composer and performer - in fact, I cheated a little and dropped a few Brittens. Otherwise, I decided to avoid cheating and just let the words fall where they may. There's a lot of music I own on CD that hasn't yet made it into iTunes, so Beethoven, for example, is a bit underrepresented. Obviously, operas, cantatas, and passions tend to feature well because they have so many tracks per minute.

I made myself stop at two. You can click on each of the images to see the results in larger size. Back to grading...

By the way, if you're interested, a quick way to avoid having to trim lots of annoying text tags is to open iTunes to the main music library window, eliminate all headings except for name/ album/ artist/ composer; then, select all the text in the window and copy it to your text editor - or right into Wordle.

[UPDATE: See the new MMmusing Wordle.]

[UPDATE 2: and another one.]

[UPDATE 3: and one more.]

[UPDATE 4: I originally used the phrase "Miss Mussel" above instead of "The Omniscient Mussel," but since at least one person seems to have assumed that Miss Mussel is MM (and thus, credited me with this meme), I wanted to clarify that it's all her fault.]

Saturday, July 26, 2008

haut huit nous

Sometimes you don't realize you're on hiatus until it's already happening. I've been wanting to blog about lots of things, but haven't found the time or discipline to get the words together. Hey, it's summer.

Anyway, one thing I have been thinking about and wanting to "unpack" is the whole problem of modern music that Joe Queenan addressed here. I was let down a bit by Terry Teachout's response which simply pointed out that Queenan had painted with too broad a brush. However, Kyle Gann, a self-titled "postclassic" composer whose tastes are much different than mine, has written a very nicely nuanced exploration of the "complex music" problem over here. The fact that it took him more than 4000 words just to get started makes me feel better about the fact that I couldn't bang out my ideas in one little post. The important take-home points: "Proposition 1: not every thorny, complex, difficult-to-understand piece that's been written is a masterpiece, worth listening to over and over again...Proposition 2: at least some thorny, complex, difficult-to-understand pieces are beautiful and profound, and those listeners who come to know them well derive immense pleasure from them." It seems simple enough, but too many arguments about this topic fail to take both of these propositions seriously.

However, since I'm apparently on hiatus, I'll just leave you to sift through Gann's treatise.

Back later...

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Doctor is Coming . . .

. . . more info to come, including Doctor Karaoke! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

MM commenting . . . again

I've got to stop spending all my blogging energy commenting on Greg Sandow's blog; of course, I'm sure I get a wider audience over there - well, I would if I managed to get my comments written less than three days after his posts appear. Still, it is MM musing at some length, so we might as well document it here for the record.

And, just to re-emphasize, I really like what Sandow is doing and I appreciate the freshness of his perspective and his willingness to hear differing opinions. Not only does he post dissenting opinions, but he clearly reads them and usually responds at some length. I don't know how he has the time. I tend to comment over there only when I disagree, but I'd be dishonest if I didn't admit his ideas have changed my thinking in some areas - or, at least, helped to refine my thinking.

My comments over there always end up being overlong because these issues (what classical music is/should be, how it should be presented, how we should think about it, etc.) are so complexly interwoven - one topic inevitably leads to another. This most recent comment is kind of all over the place, and reminds me that I really need to get around to organizing my own thoughts over here. But that won't happen today.

Here's the post that provoked the lastest edition of MM commenting. Here are some previous MM comments o'er there: Classical vs. Pop Reviews #1, Orchestras as Museums, Repeating Beethoven.

Saturday, July 12, 2008 any fool would do, maaaaa-dly...

Less than four hours later, here we are, back with more polytonal "Heart and Soul." I knew that once I'd thought of recording this using the "Shepard tone" principle, there'd be no turning back. However, I let the little pianist inside my computer play all the notes this time and then, as I once did with Bach's modulating canon, the recording was layered so that as the upper octave of melody is fading out, a new lower octave is fading in. (There's also always a more stable middle octave.) The result: after the tune has finished rising step-by-stop into all twelve keys (always above an unchanging 50's progression in C Major), we're back where we started. It helps that one commonly hears people play this with the melody doubled in octaves anyway, so the shifting isn't as noticable as it might be in other contexts.

I have bigger plans still, but I'll go ahead and post this as part 2 of an ongoing series. Listen here or just download from here.

Heart and Soulytonality

You know you're a parent when Saturday morning calm is interrupted by the familiar, bouncing version of "Heart and Soul" that seems to follow "Chopsticks" (which comes after "The Knuckle Song") in the graded repertoire of songs kids pass among themselves. Well, the truth is I taught it to my mostly-violinist daughter, who loves experimenting with the piano - but it gets better. Although it's best known as a duo piece, she's taught herself to play both parts together, accomp in L.H. and melody in R.H. But it gets even better. She's now experimenting with playing the R.H. in various keys against the trusty old C Major I-vi-IV-V chords.

OK, I might have encouraged that idea, since I've been annoying friends and family with polytonal versions for years. In fact, I just allotted myself exactly one chance to toss a quick sample recording together. We travel from C Major all the way up to C Major. I wasn't at all warmed up, so the L.H. got a little tired at times, and it's pretty unmusical - just like the kids play it. Here it is, although I'm sure I'll feel the need to fix it up at some point. It's also now installed at #8 on the MMmusic page, right between Poulenc and Scriabin. Piano blogging rides again!

Three quick points:

1) After playing it this way for years, the polytonal versions don't sound at all odd to me. I'm not saying I don't notice relative degrees of dissonance, but all the keys sound "right." If I start to lose my moral center as well, I'll let you know.

2) This would be a great exercise for piano class students, to get their fingers to "think" in various keys. Of course, they should also switch up the L.H., which I was too lazy to do. We're debuting a new piano class for non-majors this year; I'm not teaching it, but wouldn't it be cool to hear this up and down the halls day after day? (Meanwhile, my family members are shaking their heads thinking, "this is the day in Michael's blogging career we hoped would never come, but it was inevitable.")

3) If you think I haven't already considered the possibility of using Shepard Tones to create an endlessly rising version of this, you haven't been paying much attention. [UPDATE (later that day): Mission accomplished.]

Saturday, July 5, 2008

MM musing elsewhere

Since the blogging's slow here, might as well mention that I've once again multiplied words over at Greg Sandow's blog. To date, there are 29 comments there responding to his provocative suggestion that pop concerts (well, certain kinds of pop concerts) provide more substantive material for newspaper reviewers than do classical concerts. It's an odd comparison for multiple reasons (many addressed by other commenters), but what intrigues me the most about the point Sandow is making is in the value he puts on extra-musical connections. I think his perspective can be summarized as follows: the classical music industry needs to understand that other artforms (film, visual, pop music) are more directly tied into current culture than the typical classical concert; therefore, a typical classical review will tend to be focused on insider music details that wouldn't attract new listeners, whereas a typical pop review has the ability to draw in new listeners. (My short answer is that I doubt either kind of review draws in many new listeners, but I could be way off.)

I'd like to reemphasize here that I think Sandow is asking good questions, even though I don't always share his point of view. Also, the long comment I posted is a bit of an experiment for me in considering my own aesthetic principles. I'm basically taking the "music is best appreciated for its own sake" argument, as opposed to the "music is about educating/provoking/transforming us" ideal. That's not to say that music can't help to accomplish those idealistic things, but rather that the typical classical music lover is primarily attracted to the music itself (whatever that means). I think that's what I think, but making sense of how the mind processes music isn't a simple task. But, rather than going on and on about it here, I'll just point you over there.

Friday, July 4, 2008

It made me laugh . . .

Still finishing up some non-blog writing that's exhausting all my blogging energy - but, it's not exhausting all my time-wasting energy, which is inexhaustible. So it is that I stumbled across the following.

It began with a post from the inexhaustible Patty of Oboeinsight. She linked to birthday boy Mitch Miller (97 today!) - I followed, curious about what those Sing-Along-with-Mitch moments actually looked like. It all seemed about right: kitschy, bad clothes, goofy smiles, Bob from Sesame Street. For reasons that I can't even explain, I clicked over to another Mitch moment and, in the middle (about 1 minute in) of the barbershoppy Heart of My Heart, I hear Mitch introduce his guests: 1) Rosemary Clooney (yeah, that seems about right), 2) Bob McGrath (yeah, I'd heard he'd started off as one of the Miller gang), 3) Irene Cara (a little new wave for Mitch, but OK), and 4) virtuoso violinist, Mark Kaplan. !?!?! That last one surprised me, although here's the odd part. Moments before I'd Wikipediad Mitch Miller and discovered that he'd conducted a well-regarded Gerswhin recording featuring the pianist David Golub. I knew I'd heard of David Golub somewhere, but couldn't place it until Google reminded me of the Golub/Kaplan/Carr trio (great trio/bad name). I have several of their recordings, I used to accompany students of cellist Colin Carr, and of course the violinist is Mark Kaplan, Mitch's singalong guest.

Mark Kaplan is a fantastic violinist who's had one of those big, but not quite really big careers. I actually heard him play all the unaccompanied Bach live in two recitals about twenty years ago, and I have his excellent Stravinsky/Berg concerto CD. Anyway, even though I've since seen that he recorded at least one concerto album with Mitch Miller on the podium, it still seemed odd for him to be a guest. The best part, though, is that at the end of the Heart of My Heart, you can see Kaplan (decked out in full dress tails) singing and swaying along. In fact, if you go back to Patty's link and watch the very end, you can also see Kaplan marching along, Strad in hand, singing "Be Kind to Your Fine Feathered Friends." Sadly, I can't find a way to figure out what Kaplan played (or sung!) on the show, or whether they had a way for viewers to follow his bouncing bow. Also, as far as I can tell, this was from a 1981 broadcast, not the show's primary run from 1961-1964.

It's quite possible that I'm the only one in the universe who finds this sort of thing amusing, but that's the beauty of the long tailed internet. Even with hundreds of cable channels, I'll probably never get the "Great Moments in Awkward TV Appearances by Classical Musicians" show that I'd like, but this'll do.

P.S. That Mitch Miller has had some career: played in Gershwin's orchestra, played for Orson Welles' War of the Worlds, recorded oboe concertos, turned down Elvis Presley, ticked off Frank Sinatra, made people sing in front of their TVs, conducted classical orchestras, all while sporting a hip Van Dyke, even when surrounded by polyester.