Friday, October 16, 2015

Occupy Music!

I saw this just too late for the Friday Miscellanea, but it is worth a post of its own. Here is an example of ideology in music. Not a good ideology, of course. You might run up against a paywall, but if you do, just google the title: "Turning Wonky Economic Graphs into Chamber Music." The idea was to put on a concert where composers composed new music using economic data on income equality:
Perhaps the most data-driven work on the program is Ms. Harting’s, drawn from a graph created by the Economic Policy Institute, using data generated by Messrs. Pinketty and Saez.
The data, which come from the period 1979 to 2007, show income growth for the bottom 90% staying relatively stagnant, sometimes even dropping into negative territory, before hitting 5% in the final year. The line representing the top 1% of households, meanwhile, ends up 224%.
In interpreting those numbers, Ms. Harting said, her work begins with “slow-moving musical textures rubbing against each other, suggesting the tension of class antagonisms.” As the flute and violin climb upward, the vibraphone sounds an “aggressive, alarming” note. And that less-than-active cello? It symbolizes the bottom 90%, she said: “The cello is the worker.”
Just like other "musical" ideas using radio frequency emissions from distant stars or the tossing of coins or the skyline of a mountain range, this tends to demonstrate the creative poverty of the composers. I suppose the nastiest thing I could think of to say is that this sounds like exactly the kind of music that Stalin's henchmen were hoping to elicit from long-suffering Soviet composers. The "tension of class antagonisms" indeed!

Isn't it odd that the data they used stops in 2007? After all, the trends have gotten even worse since then. But that data would create a cognitive dissonance perhaps as someone who took office in 2008 was supposed to turn all this around. What was his name?

What would be a good musical coda for this post? How about a little Cornelius Cardew?


Marc Puckett said...

I haven't made it to the FM yet but this is very amusing on a dreary chill Friday morning; oh, and Cornelius Cardew! is that Smash the Social Contract? that's the only one of his hits I'm familiar with.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, I think that is also Mr. Cardew.

Anonymous said...

Check this out:

Kind of pleasant actually...

(amino acid sequence translated into notes)

Bryan Townsend said...

Like other "translations" of numeric data into music, the results are as dependent on the algorithms used or created as on the data itself.