September 25, 2007

Left-handed piano

As usual, you can find anything on craigslist.

September 20, 2007

Composers and the People Who Love Them

This quote is for anyone who thought that composers/musicians/artists had the market cornered on considerate spouses/significant others. It's from Founders at Work, a book of interviews with founders of technology startups:
Surely your wife was nervous about you sleeping only 4 hours every 2 days?

She was. She got me one of those fold-out futons that would fold under my desk. She didn't like me sleeping on the floor.
The whole book is pretty fascinating. Sometimes you forget that there are people behind the fancy consumer technology that we encounter on a daily basis. There's no archetypal story that informs the lives of each interviewee. Some of them had a vision and made a calculated plan to achieve it. Others thought it would be cool to have their own company and worried about the details as they went. Nevertheless, they share similar passions and drives to create. Really, not that different from composers in many respects.

September 16, 2007

Reading Comprehension

One of my roommates is currently preparing to take the LSAT. He shared with me this question from one of his prep books:
In recent years the early music movement, which advocates performing a work as it was performed at the time of its composition, has taken on the character of a crusade, particularly as it has moved beyond the sphere of medieval and baroque music and into music from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by composers such as Mozart and Beethoven. Granted, knowledge about the experience of playing old music on now-obsolete instruments has been of inestimable value to scholars. Nevertheless, the early music approach to performance raises profound and troubling questions. [...]
The passage continues to discuss such hard-hitting issues as instrument design, tempo choices, and applause etiquette (!). Who would've expected to see these questions posed outside our own [blogo]sphere. Here are a couple samples:
The author suggests that the final movements of symphonies by Mozart and Beethoven might be played more slowly by today's orchestras if which one of the following were to occur?
  1. orchestras were to use instruments no more advanced in design than those used by orchestras at the time Mozart and Beethoven composed their symphonies
  2. audiences were to return to the custom of applauding at the end of each movement of a symphony
  3. audiences were to reserve their most entusiastic applause for the most brilliantly played finales
  4. conductors were to return to the practice of playing the chords on an orchestral piano to keep the orchestra together
  5. conductors were to conduct the symphonies in the manner in which Beethoven and Mozart had conducted them
The author suggests that the modern audience's tendency to withhold applause until the end of a symphony's performance is primarily related to which one of the following?
  1. the replacement of the orchestral piano as a method of keeping the orchestra together
  2. a gradual increase since the time of Mozart and Beethoven in audiences' expectations regarding teh ability of orchestral musicians
  3. a change since the early nineteenth century in audiences' concepts of musical excitement and intensity
  4. a more sophisticated appreciation of the structural integrity of the symphony as a piece of music
  5. the tendency of orchestral musicians to employ their most brilliant effects in the early movements of symphonies composed by Mozart and Beethoven
For the record, my roommate's got his money on answers 2 and 3, respectively.

September 07, 2007

Devil's Advocate

Just when I thought music was dead, I get wind that we've got ourselves a savior. Thank goodness.

In related news, a few people recently got bit by the "compression is bad" bug. Now, I'm hardly going to argue with the general complaint. However, I think it's worth pointing out that compression is a tool just like any other. Good cooks use only enough salt so that you don't taste it, you know? The IEEE piece focused on such "overseasoning" issues, but there are recordings that use extreme compression quite artfully. Take a look at the waveform of Fiona Apple's "Limp":

Parts of the track are quite compressed and quite loud. They are preceded, though, by quieter sections with a more pronounced dynamic range. The contrast makes the aggressive refrains ("call me crazy / hold me down / make me cry / get off now / baby") more aggressive. The more delicate verses pick up more tension and uncertainty than a more consistent dynamic range might've suggested. Those max amp spikes you see in the last refrain are when the drums come in to accent "baby," pushing the song over the emotional edge it had been otherwise holding back from.

An entire album of music like this would be very fatiguing. The song which follows on the album ("Love Ridden") has an entirely different attitude:

The softer instrumentation (no percussion, only piano and strings) and dynamic range give your ears a chance to rest without forcing a break in the action.