Monthly Archives: May 2011

The beginnings of music

The eminent British psychologist Charles Samuel Myers, CBE (1873–1946), joined an anthropological expedition to the Torres Strait and Sarawak in 1898, and his studies of musical traditions in those places resulted in several articles. Like many of his contemporaries, he suspected that the study of ethnic traditions could help to tease out universals and illuminate the origins of music.

In “The beginnings of music” (Essays and studies presented to William Ridgeway on his sixtieth birthday [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1913, pp. 560–582]) Myers provides detailed descriptions of the musical traditions of the Meriam people of Murray Island, Australia, the Vedda people of Sri Lanka, and the peoples of Sarawak. The Vedda examples suggest an evolution of the scale as a synthesis of steps, the Sarawak examples suggest scalar evolution as a filling-in of larger intervals, and the Meriam examples suggest a synthesis of the two approaches.

Myers concludes that the beginnings of music depend on eight factors: (1) discrimination between tones and noises; (2) awareness of differences in pitch, volume, duration, and quality; (3) awareness of absolute pitch; (4) recognition and use of small, approximately equal intervals; (5) recognition and use of larger consonant intervals, and awareness of their relationships to smaller ones; (6) melodic phrasing; (7) rhythmic phrasing; and (8) musical meaning.

The article was reprinted in Music, words and voice: A reader, edited by Martin Clayton (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008, pp. 21–23). Above, the Murray Island courthouse and community hall in a photograph from the 1898 expedition that Myers joined.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Science

Musicologica slovaca

In 2010 Ústav Hudobnej Vedy of the Slovenská Akadémia Vied revived the scholarly periodical Musicologica Slovaca: Časopis Ústavu Hudobnej Vedy Slovenskej Akadémie Vied (ISSN 1338-2594), thereby providing a standard platform for publishing the most recent results of domestic music scholarship in a peer-reviewed, biannual journal. In 1992 its predecessor, the irregularly issued Musicologica slovaca et europaea, replaced the original Musicologica slovaca, which started in 1969. The renewed Musicologica Slovaca, starting as volume 1(27), maintains the continuity of the previous volumes.

The journal’s broad orientation, with topics including music history, ethnomusicology, and systematic musicology, reflects traditions of interdisciplinary communication among specialized disciplines of music scholarship in Slovakia. Musicologica Slovaca is edited by the ethnomusicologist Hana Urbancová, the Director of the Ústav Hudobnej Vedy SAV. It is published in Slovak with English abstracts and keywords.


Filed under Ethnomusicology, Musicologists, New periodicals

Expression Synthesis Project

The Expression Synthesis Project (ESP) involves a driving interface for expression synthesis, making high-level expressive musical decisions accessible to nonexperts. The user drives a car on a virtual road that represents the music with its twists and turns, and makes decisions on how to traverse each part of the road. The driver’s decisions affect the rendering of the piece in real time.

The pedals and wheel provide a tactile interface for controlling the dynamics and musical expression, while the display portrays a first-person view of the road and dashboard from the driver’s seat. This game-like interface allows nonexperts to create expressive renderings of existing music without having to master an instrument, and allows expert musicians to experiment with expressive choice without having to first master the notes of the piece.

This according to “ESP: A driving interface for expression synthesis” by Elaine Chew, Alexandre François, Jie Liu, and Aaron Yang, an essay included in the conference report NIME-05: New interfaces for musical expression (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Media and Graphics Interdisciplinary Centre, 2005, pp. 224–227). Click here for film and midi demonstrations of ESP.

Related article: Singing and safety

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Filed under Performance practice, Science

DIAMM facsimiles

Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music inaugurated the series DIAMM facsimiles in 2010 with The Eton choirbook. Edited by Magnus Williamson, the book presents a full-color facsimile edition of Eton College Library MS 178, an iconic source of English choral polyphony composed during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries that has been continuously in the possession of Eton College since it was first copied for use in the college chapel in the early 1500s.

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Filed under Middle Ages, New editions, New series

Woody Guthrie, visual artist

Unbeknownst to most of his admirers, Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie (1912–67)—who is widely known as the author of some of the best-loved songs of the twentieth century (including This land is your land) and as the inspiration for singer-songwriters including Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen—was also an indefatigable visual artist.

No documentation exists of Guthrie ever having formally studied art, but he produced thousands of visual art works: line drawings, paintings, illustrations, cartoons, portraits, sculptures, commercial art, and designs. He was keenly interested in the impressionists and the modernists, and worked with abstract as well as figurative themes.

Guthrie filled countless notebooks and journals with drawings and writings, often mixing the two, and at various times in his life he traded his sign-painting skills for food and traded sketches of bar patrons for drinks. He often used art as a political vehicle, particularly by drawing political cartoons. Like his music, his visual art was inspired by the everyday experiences of everyday people.

Guthrie’s visual art is documented with over 300 plates, almost all in full color—even for many of the line drawings, thereby capturing the ambience of blue-lined notebooks, yellowing journals, and decaying construction paper—in Woody Guthrie: Art works (New York: Rizzoli, 2005). Above, Dream (click to enlarge).

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Filed under Visual art

CANTUS: A database for Latin ecclesiastical chant

CANTUS: A database for Latin ecclesiastical chant is a free online resource that assembles and publishes indices of over 380,000 chants found in manuscript and early printed sources for the liturgical Office. The database is searchable by text incipit, keyword, Corpus Antiphonalium Officii identification number, or Liturgical occasion.

CANTUS is supported by the University of Waterloo and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Terence Bailey serves as the project’s director.


Filed under Middle Ages, Resources

Synesthesia with wine


In an experiment, 250 adults were offered a glass of wine in return for answering a few questions about its taste. After clearing their palates, each received a glass of either cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay and was taken to one of five rooms: four that each featured a different type of music playing in a continuous loop, and a silent one serving as a control. Participants were asked to spend about five minutes sipping the wine, and were told not to converse.

A smaller pilot study had determined the four types of music:

    • “powerful and heavy” (“O Fortuna” from Orff’s Carmina burana)
    • “subtle and refined” (“Вальс цветов” [Val’s cvetov/Waltz of the flowers] from Cajkovskij’s Щелкунчик [Ŝelkunčik/Nutcracker])

After drinking the wine and listening to the music, participants were asked to rate the wine’s taste on a scale from zero to ten in the categories represented by the music types. In each case, participants perceived the wine in a manner consistent with the music they had listened to while drinking it.

This according to “Wine & song: The effect of background music on the taste of wine” by Adrian C. North (Wineanorak, 2008). In an earlier experiment, documented in “The influence of in-store music on wine selections” (Journal of applied psychology LXXXIV/2 [April 1999] pp. 271–276), North and two colleagues demonstrated that playing music identified with a particular country in a wine shop had a positive influence on sales of wine from that country.

For a related post, see As bitter as a trombone. Below, Mario del Monaco shares observations on wine and synesthesia from Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana.


Filed under Food, Science

Choreographic practices

Founded by Intellect in 2010, Choreographic practices (ISSN 2040-5669; EISSN 2040-5677) seeks to engender dynamic relationships between theory and practice, choreographer and scholar, so that these distinctions may be shifted and traversed. The journal is edited by Vida L. Midgelow and Jane M. Bacon.

Encompassing a wide range of methodologies and critical perspectives so that interdisciplinary processes in performance can be understood as they intersect with other territories in the arts and beyond—e.g., cultural studies, psychology, phenomenology, geography, philosophy, and economics—Choreographic practices  aims to illuminate an emerging and vibrant research area by opening up the nature and scope of dance practice as research and drawing together diverse bodies of knowledge and ways of knowing.

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Filed under Dance, New periodicals

The Britannic organ

The long-lost pipe organ that belonged to the steamship Britannic, the sister ship of the Titanic, was identified in the collection of the Museum für Musikautomaten in Seewen, Switzerland, when restorers in 2007 discovered the inscription Britanik engraved on each beam under the instrument’s windchests.

After the outbreak of World War I in 1914 the British Admiralty requisitioned all large passenger ships as troop transports or hospital ships, so the Britannic was never outfitted for transocean luxury traffic. Around 1920 the organ, built around 1913 by M. Welte & Söhne, was installed in the villa of the camera manufacturer and designer August Nagel (1882–1943) in Stuttgart; around 1935 he returned it to the manufacturer for unknown reasons. In 1937 it was moved to the reception room of the Radium electric light company in Wipperfürth, where it remained in use until the 1960s.

When the Wipperfürth reception room was turned into a storeroom, the organ was offered for sale but attracted no buyers. Eventually it came to the attention of Heinrich Weiss, the founder of the Museum für Musikautomaten, who quickly acquired it for his collection; the instrument was completed and reinaugurated there On 30 May 1970, but its identity and history remained unknown for decades.

This according to “Orgel des gesunkenen Ozeanriesen Britannic entdeckt: 610 Meter über Meer im Museum für Musikautomaten Seewen in der Schweiz” by Christoph E. Hänggi (Das mechanische Musikinstrument: Journal der Gesellschaft für selbstspielende Musikinstrumente XXXIII/99 [August 2007] pp. 65–68; an English translation is here).

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Filed under Instruments

Studien zum Dresdner Musikleben im 19. Jahrhundert

Verlag Dohr launched the series Studien zum Dresdner Musikleben im 19. Jahrhundert  in  2010 with Schumann und Dresden. Edited by Thomas Synofzik and Hans-Günter Ottenberg, the book presents papers from Robert und Clara Schumann in Dresden: Biographische, kompositionsgeschichtliche und soziokulturelle Aspekte, a conference held in Dresden from 15 to 16 May 2008.

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Filed under New series, Romantic era