Friday, November 9, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

If you can stand the incessant punning, you might find this article on the use of music to age cheese amusing: Cheesy music: Swiss experiment with sound to make cheese tastier.
The thought of playing rock 'n' roll music to influence the flavour of cheese may make some scientists cringe.
But parts of the scientific community have spent years analysing the effect of sound on plants, and some mums-to-be believe playing classical music to their unborn child makes them smarter.
Music can create feelings, reaching inside people and stirring their senses into a fondue of emotions, in ways that can make people smile, cry or jump in elation.
Is potentially testing whether Roquefort is a fan of hard rock or Queso a follower of flamenco really so completely far-fetched? The University of the Arts in Bern does not think so and is helping Wampfler conduct the experiment.
"At first we were sceptical," admitted Michael Harenberg, the university's music director.
"Then we discovered there is a field called sonochemistry that looks at the influences of sound waves, the effect of sound on solid bodies."
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The Guardian has a long piece on the history and practices of the background music industry: Inside the booming business of background music.
Paul Hillyer, head of media at Mood Media’s UK business, described the approach his company often takes as “cradle to grave”, the least offensive to the widest spectrum of people. One of their clients is Fuller’s Brewery, which plays music in most of its 400 or so pubs in the UK. Andrew Durn, whose role at Fuller’s involves liaising with Mood Media, described its sound as being roughly like Radio 2, catering to an older, comfortable crowd. “What we don’t want,” he told me, “is customers walking in, listening to the music and saying: ‘What’s that all about?’”
It is the strenuously inoffensive nature of this kind of background music that riles up some of the industry’s fiercest critics. One group, Pipedown, have campaigned “for freedom from unwanted music in public places” since 1992, when its founder, Nigel Rodgers, was spurred to action by a particularly irritating experience in a South Kensington restaurant. “Do you hate unwanted piped background music?” reads the call to arms on the group’s website. “Do you detest the way you can’t escape it? (in pubs, restaurants and hotels; on the plane, train or bus; down the phone; ruining decent television programmes; adding to the overall levels of noise pollution in public places).” The group, which counts Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley among its celebrity supporters, claims some credit for the decision Marks & Spencer took in 2016 to stop using music in its stores. “You’re not going for a special sort of atmosphere, you’re just going to do your shopping,” Rodgers said.
I wonder if this Nigel Rodgers is the same Nigel Rodgers that was the brilliant proponent of the performance practice of 17th century vocal music?

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Over at Jessica Duchen's blog she explains how one gets inducted into the cult of Wagner: This man will take your life.
His name is Richard Wagner, and if you let him, that's what he'll do. Of course, you mightn't show him in through the door in the first place, but otherwise, what's likely to happen is set out below. The things to remember are that a) the work is not the man, and vice-versa, and b) the more effort you put into something, the more rewarding it will be. One suspects he knew that – and knew exactly what he was doing in demanding such commitment from his fans. I just went to the whole Ring, in a manner of speaking, mostly by mistake, and the Ring leaves you wrung. But I'd go all over again tomorrow if I could. How, then, does this happen?
First of all, you realise that Wagner was probably the most influential composer of any born in the 19th century, with the biggest, most lasting impact on musical history ever since – a quality he shares only with Bach, Beethoven and Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring'. So you start investigating. What on earth is so special about Richard Wagner?
I have never fallen under the spell myself, but she is correct, one really needs to attend a first-rate presentation in order to give the work a chance.

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The blog On An Overgrown Path has an interesting meditation on the concept of a concert hall: Is this the concert hall of the future?
Why is the concert hall viewed, quite wrongly, as a technology-free zone? Quite wrongly, because, the 'perfect' acoustic of the highly-acclaimed Elbphilharmonie is the product of digital technology. Algorithm controlled parametric design was used to specify the 10,000 gypsum fiber acoustic panels that create the hall's signature sound. And the wooden Schalldeckel hood that Wagner specified for his Bayreuth Festpielhaus to cover the orchestra pit is both a screen to prevent the audience seeing the orchestra and a low-tech surround sound solution that blends instruments and voices to create the unique, but nevertheless artificially contrived, Bayreuth acoustic 
I am not a philistine arguing for the death of the traditional concert hall, and I have written at length here about the sonic excellence of my local concert hall, Snape Maltings. But tinkering with cosmetic conventions such as informal concert dress and mobile phone programme notes has had no significant impact on the classical demographic. This post does not advocate indiscriminately amplifying Western classical music. But it does argue that the art form now needs to get real and choose between one of two options. If classical music really wants a new younger audience it must start to selectively adopt the 'up close and personal' sonic argot of that generation. If changing historically informed acoustic conventions is not acceptable, the classical tradition should focus on its current and basically static audience; which means revising current fiscal and mass market ambitions dramatically downwards.

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I'm not sure why, but I found this article about the four extant manuscripts of Old English literature fascinating: What Do Our Oldest Books Say About Us?
There are four original manuscripts containing poetry in Old English—the now-defunct language of the medieval Anglo-Saxons—that have survived to the present day. No more, no less. They are: the Vercelli Book, which contains six poems, including the hallucinatory “Dream of the Rood”; the Junius Manuscript, which comprises four long religious poems; the Exeter Book, crammed with riddles and elegies; and the Beowulf Manuscript, whose name says it all. There is no way of knowing how many more poetic codices (the special term for these books) might have existed once upon a time, but have since been destroyed.
I used to own a copy of a book of French poetry (I forget the author) that was published in Paris in the Year 7, meaning in the 7th year after the French Revolution when they had reinvented the calendar. It was a lovely small book and had a remarkable aura of authenticity about it. I purchased it in a second hand bookstore in Dresden that was full of similar treasures in the early 1990s, soon after the Wall came down.

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We haven't visited NewMusicBox for a while and they have an interesting article on the practicalities of programming new music in orchestral schedules:
Take, for example, two 20th-century concerti widely regarded as modern masterpieces: the Ligeti Violin Concerto and James MacMillan’s percussion concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel. Both are thrilling pieces and very effective soloist vehicles. And when they do manage to get programmed, both have broad audience appeal, not just to new music aficionados. Why aren’t they in heavier rotation with your local orchestra?
In one of the Ligeti Concerto’s most memorable moments, the oboist, clarinetists, and bassoonist play ocarinas. In the climactic ending to Veni, Veni, the orchestra players are asked to play bells “or two pieces of loud clanging metal.” In addition to renting the scores and parts to these concerti, orchestras have to acquire the ocarinas, bells, and pieces of metal, and determine whether, as per the CBA, these passages warrant doubling fees for the musicians. These costs can add up and, for a smaller-budget orchestra, become quite significant expenses. The orchestra committee might agree to hold a vote to waive the doubling fees—but if they negotiate for an extra off-day in return, the guest conductor or soloist might feel she’s left with inadequate rehearsal time and opt for a warhorse like the Mendelssohn Concerto instead.
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I'm not sure, but perhaps I should apologize: The Guardian offers the story of a trend endangering the survival of traditional orchestral instruments and it turns out the guitar and ukulele are partly to blame.
research shows that some orchestral instruments are in danger of becoming extinct, due to young people’s lack of interest. YouGov research, commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) to find the most popular instruments among schoolchildren, has revealed the increasing popularity of the ukulele, with one in eight expressing a desire to learn, making it the highest ranked instrument behind the typical rock-band grouping of guitar, piano, keyboards, drums and bass guitar.
But younger generations’ interest in “more sophisticated instruments”, as the Times sniffed, is waning, with the three least popular being the French horn (also known as The Wolf, in Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf), the double bass (Peter) and the trombone (not a major player).
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Anthony Tommasini is once more agonizing over aesthetic quality over at the New York Times: The Case for Greatness in Classical Music.
My most brazen venture into grappling with greatness came in 2011, with my Top 10 Composers project, a two-week series of articles I wrote for The New York Times. The goal was to determine a list of the top 10 composers in history. Of course, the whole project was an intellectual game, though one played seriously by me and the more than 1,500 readers whose comments were posted during the two weeks.
Some of the most interesting reactions came from music-lovers who actually found the game harmful. Others, while dismissing the exercise as absurd, sent in their own top 10 lists, often with injunctions like “Don’t you dare leave out Mahler!” For me, the game was also a genuine exercise in trying to be precise about what makes a composer’s music great, about why a composer merits a place. The final list, as I emphasized, was not the point. The analysis involved in determining it was.
The article is an advertisement for the writer's new book “The Indispensable Composers: A Personal Guide,” available this week from Penguin Press.

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For our envoi here are Nigel Rogers (no "d" so likely not the same Nigel mentioned above) and Ian Partridge in the famous Monteverdi madrigal Zefiro torna e di soavi accenti:

Hey, it was either that or Wagner...


Marc said...

Only time to browse this morning, but did read the cheese article. Simply bring 'science' somehow into any old loopy undertaking and it becomes sufficiently substantive to relieve our scepticism. When the wheel of Emmenthal begins to speak and move itself out of the cellar, I'll read the news report, sure; until then, thanks, Swiss taxpayers, for providing a Friday morning amusement.

Bryan Townsend said...

It redefines the meaning of "cheesy" music!

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

the article about the popularity of the ukulele or guitar over more traditionally symphonic instruments (or even the widely reviled though still a good instrument the recorder) suggests to me that UK composers should get to writing for ukulele and guitar. Thanks to the band and jazz traditions instruments that are reportedly endangered in the UK like the double bass, French horn, or maybe the trombone and even the tuba all have rich roles to fill in American music.

The article also suggests that the late Matanya Ophee was right to point out over the last thirty years that the prejudice against the guitar in the classical mainstream was still strong and that there was never a "golden age" in which the guitar itself was taken seriously, just some indisputably great masters of the guitar were taken seriously by the classical music press. It's probably even MORE the case for the ukulule for the vaguely alarmist undercurrent about the ukulele being more popular with students. The uke is a perfectly good instrument. Instead of wishing kids would stick with the orchestral stalwarts we could start writing "serious music" for the ukulele.

Bryan Townsend said...

I don't know much about the ukulele, but UK composers have made quite significant contributions to the guitar repertoire, stimulated by the virtuosity of Julian Bream and John Williams. However, those days are gone now as both artists have retired so you are quite right, it is time for a new generation of composers to make a contribution.

The guitar has always been something of a counter-culture instrument, which is part of its charm.