Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

Critical thinking is more often praised in the abstract than actually practiced. As an example, I present the case of a theory--or rather bald assertion--about the nature of taste that has been accepted wisdom for a long, long time. I recall reading a long time ago, when I was fairly young, the claim that different parts of the tongue are responsible for the different kinds of taste: sweet, salty and so on. Well, it turns out that this all rests on a mistranslation. Here is the article: "How a mistranslation made you think your tongue had 'taste zones' ".
the 'taste zone' map was first sketched and published in 1942 by Edwin G. Boring, a psychologist who worked for multiple universities in his time such as Harvard and Clark University.
Boring's map outlined areas for four tastes - sweet, supposedly at the tip of the tongue; salty and then sour in the middle; and bitter at the very back - but didn’t account for the fifth: umami, a taste that is often described as 'meaty', sort of like how MSG tastes.
This error was because, according to Steven D. Munger from The Conversation, Boring got most of his data from a 1901 paper by a German scientist named David P. Hänig, who also failed to test for umami.
Hänig, unlike Boring, presented his information in a graph that was incredibly confusing to other researchers at the time, because it appeared to outline where tastes were picked up on the tongue. In reality, he was trying to show that areas of the tongue were slightly more sensitive to certain tastes than others, not that they were only sensed in these areas, which is a pretty big difference.
When I think back I realize that a huge portion of my education consisted in accepting bald, weakly supported, assertions about a host of things that I later on had to think through and excise! What has your experience been?

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Is this finally a reason to go to Tulsa, Oklahoma? Sure, if you are a Bob Dylan scholar: "Inside Bob Dylan's Historic New Tulsa Archive: 'It's an Endless Ocean' "
Tulsa, Oklahoma, is about to become the center of the Bob Dylan universe. The singer-songwriter has sold a previously unknown treasure trove of 6,000 artifacts from his private collection — including handwritten lyrics, photographs, contracts and private letters alongside video and audio recordings — to the University of Tulsa and the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation, and they will be soon be accessible to Dylan scholars from around the world. "There are a lot of books written about Bob Dylan," says Steadman Upham, president of the University of Tulsa. "But there are going to be a whole lot more based on these materials." 
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George Martin has died at 90 years of age. He was the first record producer to recognize the skills and potential of the Beatles. He made the instrumental arrangements that backed up many of the Beatles' best songs like the string quartet behind "Yesterday" and the octet accompanying "Eleanor Rigby" not to mention the orchestral arrangements for "A Day in the Life", "Strawberry Fields" and "I Am the Walrus". None of the Beatles could read or write music notation, so if a part had to be written down for a studio musician to play, it was George who did it. He also played piano on some of their earlier albums. You would be shocked to hear how little he got paid for producing the earlier recordings!

Click to enlarge
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And now for some classical news: pianist Yefim Bronfman has just traversed all of the Prokofiev piano sonatas in three concerts at the University of California’s Hertz Hall—offering Sonatas Nos. 1 through 4 on Jan. 24; 5 through 7 on March 4; and 8 and 9 on March 6. The Wall Street Journal has an article "A Program in Praise of Prokofiev." I'm a bit surprised to hear that this is a rare, if not unprecedented, event. But then again, I realize that I have only heard a couple of these sonatas myself. Maybe I should do some posts on them...

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I don't think that the editors who affix the headlines to articles always read the articles! That might be the case with this piece from the Guardian: "CBSO/Chauhan review – new Golijov cello concerto given fine debut" As we learn in the article:
The City of Birmingham Symphony’s spring season includes three significant UK premieres. Works by Hans Abrahamsen and John Luther Adams are due in the next two months. The first of the novelties was Osvaldo Golijov’s Azul, a cello concerto in all but name.
It’s not, by any means, a brand-new work: Yo-Yo Ma gave the first performance of Azul with the Boston Symphony Orchestra a decade ago, and Golijov has revised it a couple of times since.
What caught my attention was the phrase "new cello concerto" because the last we heard much of Golijov was a few years ago when he was first accused of plagiarism and then had to delay and cancel some premieres. He had, it seems, hit a composer's block. Based on this NOT being a new piece, it seems he is still caught in that block.

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Very sad news, one of my favorite conductors, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, passed away this week, aged 86: "Nikolaus Harnoncourt obituary"
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who has died aged 86, was one of the most innovative and influential conductors of the second half of the 20th century, bringing the scholarship and sensibility of historical performance to the mainstream repertoire with sometimes controversial, but always illuminating results.
With the Concentus Musicus of Vienna, an ensemble he formed in the early 1950s, he recorded, in collaboration with his friend Gustav Leonhardt, the complete sacred cantatas of JS Bach and continued to work with the group in later years. But he also began to operate with modern instrumental ensembles, notably the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and, later, the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, in classical and Romantic repertoire. Performances of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Dvořák, among others, were distinguished by their bracingly astringent qualities. While some found such readings mannered and idiosyncratic, others relished their freshness and vigour. He made more than 500 recordings.
I have his recordings of both the Beethoven and Schubert symphonies and one of the first recordings of early music I ever purchased was his production of Monteverdi's Orfeo.

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This gives us our envoi for this week. Here is Nikolaus Harnoncourt in one of his last projects: a fresh approach to the last three Mozart symphonies with the Concentus Musicus Wein:


Marc Puckett said...

Professor Althouse will be making plans for a road trip to Tulsa before much longer, I guess.

Here in Eugene we have a mystery of sorts connected with the local, University of Oregon-owned classical music station KWAX, at the top of the newspaper's front page this morning: []. Peter van de Graaff is a fairly well-known classical music fellow/singer whose syndicated programming is heard in lots of different places, in the US, anyway; although I had him and Performance Today's Fred Child (PT being another syndicated classical program, widely distributed) mixed up until after the first cup of coffee earlier.

Eugene Onegin at Eugene Opera tonight.

Marc Puckett said...

The coming season is Eugene Opera's 40th. For New Year's Eve, they are presenting three acts from three different operas-- it should be a pleasant evening however much I personally would prefer an entire opera. I'm finding the choice questionable, though, and wonder what you all here might think; the first act of Aida and the second act of Die Fledermaus, seem suitably NYE-ish, sure. But, between those, the final act of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites, which ends, you know, with the awful revolutionaries chopping off the Carmelite nuns' heads. Salve Regina, mater miserico... SWOOSH! down falls the guillotine's blade, over and over. I don't get it.

Bryan Townsend said...

Prof. Althouse's fascination with Bob Dylan is one of her more interesting qualities. She always seems to find truth in his lyrics.

That does seem like a puzzling mystery at KWAX.

Hm, yes, an odd sort of melange of operas. Perhaps it is supposed to be "edgy".