Marcel Duchamp, noise, and music

 

Starting in 1912, Marcel Duchamp incorporated musical concepts and structures into his work, thereby promoting the emancipation of noise and confirming composition and music-making as a cottage industry.

Duchamp’s Avoir l’apprenti dans le soleil (To have the apprentice in the sun, 1914) was created at a time when the artist was concerned with the challenges of combining elements of various arts. The cyclist is a symbol of the French avant-garde and the modern spirit; the viewer sees the cyclist’s effort to mount the staff lines as a contrast between silence and noisy corporeality. The battle between the arts is not to be ironed out by means of assimilation, but must be fought out or brought to a détente in the artwork itself.

This according to “Marcel Duchamp, John Cage und eine Kunstgeschichte des Geräusches/Marcel Duchamp, John Cage and an art history of noise” by Michael C. Glasmeier, an essay included in Resonanzen: Aspekte der Klangkunst/Resonances: Aspects of sound art (Heidelberg: Kehrer, 2002, pp. 49–70).

Today is Duchamp’s 130th birthday! Above, the drawing in question; below, the artist describes his readymade À bruit secret (With hidden noise, 1916): “Before I finished it Arensberg put something inside the ball of twine, and never told me what it was, and I didn’t want to know.”

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Filed under Curiosities, Visual art

Granados’s performance practices

Enrique Granados’s Duo-Art piano-roll performance of his Danza española no. 5 (Andaluza), made some 20 years after the piece was published, illuminates much about late-Romantic piano performance practices.

Transcription and analysis of this piano roll illustrate the disparity between score and performance. Granados added and changed notes, ornaments, articulations, and chords. He also altered many rhythmic values, desynchronized melody and accompaniment, rolled chords at will, and introduced drastic tempo changes not indicated in the score. His performing style thus reflects a personal approach to the piano that lies well within the broader context of the Romantic performance tradition.

This according to “Piano-roll recordings of Enrique Granados: A study of a transcription of the composer’s performance” by Anatole Leikin (Journal of musicological research XXI/1–2 [January–June 2002] pp. 3–19).

Today is Granados’s 150th birthday! Below, the recording in question.

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Filed under Performance practice, Romantic era

Schriftenreihe des Archivs der Zeitgenossen

In 2016 Studien-Verlag launched the series Schriftenreihe des Archivs der Zeitgenossen with Mechanismen der Macht: Friedrich Cerha und sein musikdramatisches Werk.

Founded in 2009, the Archiv der Zeitgenossen (archive of contemporaries) is a collection of artists’ estates donated both during their lifetimes and posthumously. Established by the state of Lower Austria, it is housed at the Donau-Universität Krems, which curates it.

The inaugural volume of the series draws on the archive’s Friedrich Cerha collection, which documents Cerha’s life, primarily as composer and conductor, but also as musician, musicologist, scholar of German literature, teacher, private person, and public figure. The archival holdings provide scholars with a unique source for studying Cerha’s musical work, and also contain a wealth of materials on questions regarding cultural politics, reception history, media studies, and musicology.

Below, excerpts from Cerha’s Onkel Präsident, one of the works discussed in the book.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, New series, Opera

Swearing on the scepter

At their commencement ceremony, graduates of the Universität für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Wien (MDW) swear to remain forever true to their alma mater with the words Ich gelobe! (I swear!) while touching the university’s scepter.

Designed by the renowned Viennese sculptor Ferdinand Welz, the head of the scepter depicts King David playing his harp. The scrolls under the figure read Universitas rerum musicarum et artis dramaticae vindobonensis and Musica est bene modulandi scientia, the latter drawing on a quotation from Augustine of Hippo.

This according to “Daz zepter der MDW/The sceptre of the MDW” by Christian Meyer (MDW-magazin 2017/2, pp. 22–25).

The MDW celebrates its 200th anniversary this year! Above, three views of the scepter’s head (click to enlarge); below, the anniversary’s official visualization.

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Filed under Curiosities, Iconography

Carlos Santana and “Smooth”

In 1971 Carlos Santana’s Black magic woman hit number 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. It would take him nearly three decades to make the top 10 again, but it was a comeback worth waiting for. In 1999 Santana’s Smooth, featuring Rob Thomas on vocals, topped the chart for a stunning 12 weeks and stayed 58 total weeks on the list, making it the No. 2 Hot 100 song of all time. The recording also won three Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.

Recalling the recording session in a 2014 interview, Santana said “I didn’t want [the guitar part] to have brain or mind or energy. I wanted it to be with innocence. Innocence to me is very sacred and very sensual. People should never lose their innocence. So I didn’t practice, purposefully. As soon as I found out where my fingers go on the neck, you close your eyes and you complement Rob. Kind of like a minister: He says Hallelujah, and you say your name.”

“When you make it memorable, you hang around with eternity.”

This according to “Smooth at 15: Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas reflect on their Billboard Hot 100 smash” by Leila Cobo (Billboard 27 June 2014).

Today is Santana’s 70th birthday! Above, performing Smooth in 1999; below, the official music video.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music, Reception

Drumming cockatoos

 

All human societies have music with a rhythmic beat, typically produced with percussive instruments such as drums. The set of capacities that allows humans to produce and perceive music appears to be deeply rooted in human biology, but an understanding of its evolutionary origins requires cross-taxa comparisons.

Drumming by palm cockatoos (Probosciger aterrimus) shares the key rudiments of human instrumental music, including manufacture of a sound tool, performance in a consistent context, regular beat production, repeated components, and individual styles.

Throughout 131 drumming sequences produced by 18 males, the beats occurred at nonrandom, regular intervals; yet individual males differed significantly in the distribution parameters of their beat patterns, indicating individual drumming styles. Autocorrelation analyses of the longest drumming sequences further showed that they were highly regular and predictable, like human music.

These discoveries provide a rare comparative perspective on the evolution of rhythmicity and instrumental music in our own species, and show that a preference for a regular beat can have other origins before being co-opted into group-based music and dance.

This according to “Tool-assisted rhythmic drumming in palm cockatoos shares key elements of human instrumental music” by Robert Heinsohn, Christina N. Zdenek, et al. (Science advances III/6 [2017]).

Above, a male cockatoo (right) drumming with a stick for a female; below, a video produced by the research team.

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Filed under Animals, Curiosities, Science

The international journal of traditional arts

Launched in 2017, The international journal of traditional arts is an international, peer-reviewed gold open access journal that promotes a broad-ranging understanding of the relevance of traditional arts in contemporary social life.

The journal publishes leading and robust scholarship on traditional arts from around the world with a focus on the contemporary policy and practice of traditional music, dance, drama, oral narrative, and crafts. Its scope includes ethnomusicology, cultural sociology, anthropology, ethnology, ethnochoreology, cultural policy, folklore, musicology, cultural studies, cultural economics, heritage, and tourism studies.

Above and below, Quartett Laseyer, a group that figures in one of the articles in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under Ethnochoreology, Ethnomusicology, New periodicals

Thoreau’s ear

Henry David Thoreau was the only nineteenth-century American writer of the very first rank who paid prolonged and intense attention to sound-worlds, particularly non-human ones. As a naturalist, his fieldwork involved not only botany but also sound-collecting.

Thoreau’s writings illuminate how he understood music as sound. He discussed ambient sound and animal sound communication in acoustic ecological niches; he understood that sound announces presence and enables co-presence; and he developed a relational epistemology and alternative economy based in sound. His responses to the vibrations of the environment through prolonged and deep listening make him valuable for sound studies today.

This according to “Thoreau’s ear” by Jeff Todd Titon (Sound studies I/1 [2015] pp. 144–54).

Today is Thoreau’s 200th birthday! Below, one of Charles Ives’s meditations on the man and his work.

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Filed under Curiosities, Literature

Arlo Guthrie and Alice’s church

Arlo Guthrie’s classic story-song Alice’s restaurant massacree hinges on an episode in which the teenaged Guthrie and a friend help Alice and Ray Brock clean their Stockbridge, Massachusetts, home—a deconsecrated 17th-century church—for Thanksgiving dinner, by hauling away a half-ton of garbage.

When Arthur Penn made his film Alice’s restaurant, he used the Brocks’ church/home as a metaphor, including a scene in which a man stands up and says “We’re going to reconsecrate this church.”

And so it came to pass: “Alice’s church” is now the Guthrie Center, an interfaith church celebrating religious and cultural diversity, and a not-for-profit educational foundation (inset; click to enlarge).

The church provides weekly community free lunches and support for families living with HIV/AIDS as well as other life-threatening illnesses. It also hosts a summer concert series; Arlo does several fundraising shows there every year. There are also annual events, including a  Thanksgiving dinner for families, friends, doctors, and scientists who live and work with Huntington’s disease (a condition that afflicted Arlo’s father, Woody Guthrie).

This according to “Arlo Guthrie’s storied career” by Richard Harrington (The Washington post 12 August 2005).

Today is Arlo Guthrie’s 70th birthday! Above, a scene in the church from the film; below, the film’s ending, outside the church.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Sound studies

Launched by Taylor & Francis in 2015, Sound studies aims to provide a forum for emergent ideas, theories, and topics, but it is also committed to an ongoing dialogue with some of the field’s rich legacy in areas such as soundscapes, sound art, film music, histories of listening, the tensions and synergies of sound and vision, and many others.

The editors also hope to initiate a broader conversation about sound across multiple geographic, social, and cultural spaces, and about how sound travels across such spaces, facilitating the formation of new communities and alliances in some cases while also creating new boundaries and distinctions in others.

Below, Matthew Herbert’s Foreign bodies, which is discussed in one of the articles in the inaugural issue—the recording assembles its sonic palette out of digestive gurgling, blood, toothbrushing, popping joints, handclaps, speech, non-verbal vocalizations, and singing.

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