Archive for March, 2012

Story Water by Gunhild Seim at Vossa Jazz 2012

March 31, 2012

Neil Gaiman, the famous writer, once told a story about his early teens when he’d decided he wanted to be a writer. Then he read Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. Now, he wanted to be a writer and the book he wanted to write, was Lord of the Rings. Only problem, of course, it was already written. To many, this obstacle would seem unsurmountable. To Gaiman, it was a minor challenge. He figured out, if he just held onto the book and then traveled into a parallel universe where Lord of the Rings was not written, he could publish it there in his own name. A brilliant solution, of course, to a rather delicate problem, I’d say.

What has all this to do with anything, not the least Story Water by Gunhild Seim at Vossa Jazz 2012? To begin with, I’m obviously at Vossa Jazz 2012, and yesterday I attended when Gunhild Seim and her group performed their piece called Story Water. The piece was commissioned for the festival, and the performance last night was, I presume, the debut. And it was great. Really jawdropping great. What struck me, when I sat there, was that if I was going to write a piece of music, I would want it to be Story Water. Now, all I need are some music-writing ambitions and a parallel universe where Story Water has yet to surface. (Great things always do.)



Artist Cloud

March 30, 2012

I tried to add an artist cloud to the side bar, but the image was too wide. I think the cloud looks so cool, I’m posting it here instead. It shows what artists I’ve scrobbled to for the last 3 months. The artist cloud is generated by a tool written by shoxrocks. Obviously, I have listened a lot to Susanne Sundfør recently, but I think the image will update itself, so unless I keep listening to Sundfør, this sentence does won’t make sense in the future. Over on my profile, there is an equally cool tag cloud which shows what type of music I’ve been listening to recently.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

March 28, 2012

While things grinds to a halt and life as I knew it is coming to an end, sort of, I’be been reading Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s very fine book Good Omens. It is something as rare as a novel written by not one, but two great authors. While I knew some of Gaiman’s work pretty well, I had not read any of Pratchett’s. I’ve heard of its reputation, though. Good Omens was published in 1990, at a time when none of them were the superstars they are today. I came across my copy in a flea market last year. I think it was unread, for reasons I cannot understand. Because it is a great book. And a little bit strange. It has to be, I guess, being a funny book about the Apocalypse. And it really is funny. I laughed out loud, several times, while reading in public spaces, something my Norwegian nature otherwise forbids (no, not forbidding  to read in public spaces, but to laugh out loud, I’m making a mess of this, I’m sorry; not fully coherent today, it seems).

The foreword serves a taste of the great fun that lies ahead of the reader and tells of the passion readers have embraced the book with:

[…] Good Omens was written by two people who at the time were not at all well know except by the people who already knew them. They weren’t even certain it would sell They certainly didn’t know they were going to write the most repaired book in the world. (Believe us: We have signed a delightful large number of paperbacks that have been dropped in the bath, gone a worrying brown color, got repaired with sticky tape and string, and, in one case, consisted entirely of loose pages in a plastic bag. On the other hand, there was the guy who’d had a special box made up of walnut and silver filigree, with the paperback nestiling inside on black velvet. There were silver runes on the lid. We didn’t ask.) Etiquette tip: It’s okay, more or less, to ask an author to sign your arm, but not good manners to then nip around to the tattoo parlor next door and return half an hour later to show them the inflamed result.

I strongly recommend this book. It will put brightness into your life.

Vijay Iyer: A Scientific Musician

March 23, 2012

Perhaps it is about time to kick this old blog back to life. I will start with a post about Vijay Iyer. I came across an interview with him, of all places, in Nature (483, p. 157). Vijay Iyer is a jazz pianist who plays a kind of progressive jazz, very interesting stuff although not entirely my cup of tea. It is nice, but not very groovy. What is extraordinary about Iyer is that he has a scientific background which he applies to his music. He started out in physics, but took a PhD in music perception and cognition. In his dissertation, he studied the perception of rhythm. From the Nature-interview:

Why focus on rhythm?
At the primal level, music is rhythm first, the sound of bodies in synchronous action. That is why there is a pulse in music. Rhythm perception is an imagined movement in the motor centres of the brain. Our skill for coordinating our actions is the real foundation of music, and possibly of civilization.

I have listened to Iyer and his trio quite a bit the last couple of days. Rhythm, and the seeming lack thereof, is an important part of Iyer’s music. What he does with the rhythm on Mystic Brew is simply amazing. No doubt, he is a highly skilled musician. It is also fascinating how he applies scientific ideas to his music in a very direct way.

How do you use scientific ideas in your music?
Some composers might write a string quartet ‘about’ string theory, but that is just inspiration, it is not really discovery. I’m more of an experimentalist. There is an auditory illusion of a constantly ascending pitch, known as Shepard tones: the musical equivalent of M. C. Escher’s infinite staircase. As the pitch goes up, the distribution of harmonics shifts down, and your ear can’t find the place where it doubles back on itself. I used this illusion in a string quartet by asking the players to perform a synchronized glissando in parallel octaves and imposing a bell curve on their amplitudes. It worked. After that, I asked, can we do this with tempo? At the end of the title track on Historicity, there is a rhythm that constantly decelerates. On Accelerando, there is a piece giving the illusion of constant acceleration, of a tempo that flexes.

What is the future of music?
People walk around with headphones on, thinking of music as a solitary, personalized pursuit. But it has connected us by synchronizing our actions throughout human history. Because we are so engrossed in the technical aspects, it is easy for scientists, and even for musicians, to forget that the effects of music are primarily emotional. That is why people keep it in their lives.

The emotional side of music is what makes it interesting, and why mainstream, popular music seldom has much appeal to anyone with more than a superficial interest.