Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday Miscellanea



I'm not saying where I got this, but I was just dying to caption it:

"What the f...?"

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Speaking of modern art, well, not so modern really, the Wall Street Journal has an article on what might have been wrong, psychiatrically or medically, with Vincent Van Gogh: Doctors Examine Vincent Van Gogh.
What exactly was Vincent van Gogh’s problem? This summer, in a Dutch exhibition and a related symposium, art historians and physicians will debate a question that has long puzzled the medical and art worlds.
“On the Verge of Insanity: Van Gogh and His Illness” opens July 15 at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum and runs until Sept. 25. The 60 artworks and objects on view will include a payment receipt for an asylum stay by the artist and a February 1889 petition from citizens of Arles, the southern French town where van Gogh had a series of breakdowns, requesting that their mayor have the artist institutionalized.
Artists seem to have more than their fair share of eccentricities and oddities which sometimes are so extreme that they shade into diagnosable insanity or a medical condition. Just sheer speculation, but it might be the case that with someone with genuine creative gifts, having some sort of extreme disposition might just drive you to try out ideas and techniques that you would not have otherwise.

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Scientific American has an interesting article on how singers shape their voice production to be heard over an orchestra. Key bit:
Although singers can generate very loud sounds, how can they compete with a large and enthusiastic symphony orchestra?
One strategy is to maximize their sound output at frequencies above 2,000 Hz. This is because an orchestra is typically loudest around 500 Hz, with the sound level dropping off quickly at higher frequencies. Furthermore, the ear is most sensitive around 3,000 to 4,000 Hz. To this end, singers often modify the resonances of their tract to produce a characteristic "vocal ring" that considerably boosts the sound output in this frequency range. This is of more value to lower pitched voices than to sopranos.
This is an example of how scientific research can be very helpful to musicians. What distinguishes this from the pseudo-science I often complain about is that this is all about the acoustics, which is very researchable. Attempts to study musical taste are just bad aesthetics masquerading as science.

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We have to record the passing away of Alirio Diaz recently. Slipped Disc has the item. Just a small correction: Alirio Diaz wasn't the only guitarist that Segovia approved of. There was actually a small group that also included Oscar Ghiglia from Italy, José Tomás from Spain, John Williams from England and Christopher Parkening from the US. I had the opportunity to meet Alirio Diaz once and hear him in concert. He was indeed a very fine musician and a very civilized person. Be sure to listen to the excellent performance of the Invocation and Dance by Rodrigo at the link.

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Slate takes us on a visit to the Steinway piano factory in Queens. Lots of interesting photos.

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I dunno, I just thought this was so cool I had to share. This is a photo of Margaret Hamilton, director of software engineering for the Apollo 11 project, standing next to a stack of paper containing the flight software for the project. This had to be written from scratch in assembler language as nothing like it had ever been done before.


Of course, nowadays any smartwatch has many times the computing power...

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I think that one of the real strengths of classical music is that it, mostly, adroitly side-steps most political causes and issues. But there are still those who think that every time some conflict arises we have to follow the lead of pop musicians and signal that we are virtuous. Here is an article in the New York Times by William Robin talking about a classical music concert to benefit the Black Lives Matter movement: "For Black Lives Matter, Classical Music Steps In." I always enjoy the characteristic NYT Inversion Grammar. Here is a sample passage:
While classical music institutions have lately addressed issues of diversity — the theme of the League of American Orchestras’ annual conference last month was “The Richness of Difference” — they still tend to avoid confronting contemporary racial tensions.
When demonstrators interrupted a 2014 St. Louis Symphony concert to sing “Requiem for Mike Brown,” or when, in 2015, Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, spoke of the necessity of the protests that shook her city after the death of Freddie Gray, they were rare and controversial moments in a largely apolitical industry. Classical music tends to frame questions of race in terms of professional and audience demographics, distant from the discussions of police brutality that concern Black Lives Matter.
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For our envoi today, let's have a completely non-political piece of music. This is Grigory Sokolov playing the Piano Sonata No 9 in E major, Op 14 by Beethoven in Paris in 2002:


UPDATED: To remove an unfortunate coincidence... and I want to offer my apologies for an item about a French composer, the wording of which had a very unpleasant effect when combined with the horrific terrorist attack in France on Thursday. I'm afraid that I posted the Friday miscellanea, which had been prepared days before, without reviewing it. Deepest condolences to the people of France, who have suffered yet another barbaric atrocity.

11 comments:

Craig said...

Bryan, I always enjoy the Friday Miscellanea, but leading with a bit about a "hit and run" on a Frenchman and concluding with "Nice!", of all things, would be really tactless if it were intentional. I'm assuming it was not intentional...

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh, good grief! Sorry, this Friday Miscellanea was prepared a few days ago before the terrible events in Nice and I just didn't think to change it! So yes, completely unintentional.

Marc Puckett said...

But Guy Damann's is a fine essay and very amusing in parts (was curious and Google's got the original post cached, of course). And it did prompt me to try listening to Vexations-- there are versions from three to seventy minutes on Spotify; I managed a couple. Of minutes, I mean. Is Damann right, do you think, that Satie's work "represents music’s first decisive turn toward irony"? Hmm.

Marc Puckett said...

And it is a good thing that the artist didn't title her three panels of white paint 'Empty Canvases for People to Draw On' because then visitors might take her at her word and draw on them-- in the way that the woman filled in the crossword puzzle in so and so's art, noted at Althouse... just yesterday: so much has happened in the last couple of days! [http://althouse.blogspot.com/2016/07/if-museum-didnt-want-people-to-follow.html]

Christine Lacroix said...

It was obvious to me that it was a coincidence, Bryan. I live relatively close to Nice, and I didn't take it badly. So no apologies needed!

Maybe this bit will give you something to write about! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/taste-in-music-isnt-unique-study-says_us_5787c523e4b03fc3ee4fcbd2?section=

Christine Lacroix said...

Here's more: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-07/miot-wwl071216.php

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks so much, Marc and Christine. I felt awful when I realized how perfectly inappropriate that bit was! And thanks for the link, I'll have a look.

Craig said...

I figured it was just an unhappy coincidence!

Bryan Townsend said...

Yeah, but it meshed just too damn closely!

Marc Puckett said...

I'm having to shop for new headphones. Any suggestions? I use them during the daily commute, chiefly, walking to and from and then riding the city bus. Had been using a Samsung wireless set with earbuds but the neck piece broke: I could spend thirty bucks to replace that or else move on to a new device altogether, and since these are at least a couple of years old, I'm thinking 'move on' is the better option.

There are approximately 4,123 headphone &c &c devices available.

My personal bottom line is, no worse listening experience than with the Samsung wireless: as long as I can manage that, I'll be happy. Am using a generic $12 pair of earbuds until I find a new device-- the Samsung wireless set produces a noticeably better 'aural experience' than these. And, no, I can't afford the $18,000 ones. :-)

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh wow! I did buy a set of headphones a while back, but I find I rarely use them. They were just for use at home: AKG Quincy Jones reference studio or something like that. Excellent headphones, but not for use while commuting probably. Can someone else offer suggestions?