Thursday, August 8, 2013


I haven't done a miscellany for a while and I just ran across an item I have to share, from the Huffington Post:
Brain scans revealed that because of meditation, 66-year-old French monk Matthieu Ricard, an aide to the Dalai Lama, has the largest capacity for happiness ever recorded. University of Wisconsin researchers, led by Davidson, hooked up 256 sensors to his head, and found that Ricard had an unusually large propensity for happiness and reduced tendency toward negativity, due to neuroplasticity.
This is from an article that seems determined to combine the worst features of New Age and scientism. It's all about training your mind to do the "impossible", but I'm afraid that nothing whatsoever would enable me to read that paragraph without bursting out into laughter. Oh well, if they used 256 sensors then I'm sure there could be no doubt that M. Ricard has the largest capacity for happiness ever. I'm afraid that this article is hugely increasing my tendency toward negativity, though.

Here is the latest in Norman Lebrecht's ongoing crusade to root out sexism and racism in the Vienna Symphony (though usually he is after the Vienna Philharmonic). I guess this is a two-fer. Doesn't anyone sue for libel any more?

Every few months yet another article appears that is trying to convince us that computers can compose music, Here is the latest. It has the usual blend of sensation-getting headline: "Can Computers Write Music That Has A Soul?" and dreary follow-up, but this article does not even provide an example of computer-written music as most do. The mundane facts are these
A grad student pursuing his doctorate in composition at Harvard University, Oberholtzer applies the techniques of electronic music to compose works meant to be played by human orchestras. Instead of just stringing note after note, Oberholtzer uses a series of custom tools to translate a nebulous musical intention into a human-readable score. He does this by trying to define in words what the finished piece will sound like.
So, pretty much just another composer using a computer to aid him in composition. I use a computer as well, but I don't try and make grandiose, yet nebulous claims about the process. As most of these kind of articles do, they consult with the grand old man of computer composition, David Cope:
"Mozart and Bach wrote music using algorithms," says Cope, a 73-year-old pioneer in the field of generative music composition. "They didn’t have computers, but they used a system to randomly generate music from a number of pre-composed sections, just by rolling dice."
Mozart and Bach did this as a bit of a joke. Whereas Cope is trying to justify the procedure by claiming the support of a couple of great composers, the truth is that Mozart and Bach would be the first ones to say, along with me, that no, computers cannot compose music, with or without a soul. The article is really not worth fisking, but my sense reading through is that most of the claims made are either completely wrong or wildly exaggerated.

And finally, let me link to an article that is not silly, or wildly wrong. Here is Kevin Puts talking about why it is ok to write a symphony. He says,
In the end, maybe what that journalist implied was right. Maybe it isn't too cool to write a symphony anymore. But how cool anyway are we who love the inexorable rising scales at the opening of Beethoven's Seventh, those wicked, angular piano chords in the first movement of Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements, the counterpoint it the last movement of Mozart's Jupiter symphony, the epic ending of the Sibelius Fifth? 
We are moved in that way in which only the symphonic literature can move us. For me, the genre continues to feel right and true to who I am. I owe a lot to it.

Now that's the voice of someone who knows about music. Here is the first part of Kevin Puts' Piano Concerto entitled "Night":

That's quite good, isn't it? And not written by a computer...


Virgil T. Morant said...

That paragraph from the Huffington Post about the monk absolutely sounded like satire. It was like reading the beginning of a piece from the Onion.

Bryan Townsend said...

What popped into my mind was that it was like a Monty Python sketch!