Author Archives: rilm

RILM and the IBM Selectric

Dorothy Curzon, the Managing Editor of RILM Abstracts between 1975 and 1988, with her Selectric.

Although the production of RILM Abstracts has always heavily relied on computing technology, the computers of the 1960s and 1970s were not able to support the complexities of its multilingual and multicultural mission. Even the most powerful IBM mainframe System/370, used in the production of RILM Abstracts from 1970 to 1988, had limited possibilities for rendering different fonts, writing systems, and diacritical signs. For RILM, displaying names and terms in their most accurate representations—including rendering them in their original writing systems—was an imperative since its inception in 1967.

RILM’s Soviet national committee, headed in the 1960s and 1970s by Grigorij Mihajlovič Šneerson (1901–82) and Ûrij Vsevolodovič Keldyš (1907–95), was prolific, contributing a large number of records for publications issued in the Russian language. As the S/370 was unable to render their authors and titles in Russian Cyrillic, early RILM editors used another, much simpler IBM machine: the Selectric typewriter. The Selectric’s changeable typeball made possible it to render different fonts and scripts. For RILM editors it was like an automated transliteration machine, since its typeball with Cyrillic letters enabled printing Russian texts by typing on a standard roman-letter keyboard.

Record from a printed volume of RILM Abstracts, with author and title rendered in Cyrillic.

IBM introduced the Selectric typewriter on 31 July 1961, 60 years ago today!

Typeballs used during the 1970s in the production of RILM Abstracts, preserved in the Museum of RILM History.

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Filed under From the archives, RILM

Returning to “La source”

Four historic performances of Arthur Saint-Léon’s ballet La source, spanning 150 years, illustrate how—through the sacrifice of a feminized nature—the work represented the biopolitics of sex and race, and the cosmopolitics of human and natural resources.

In 1866, when La source debuted, the public at the Paris Opéra may have been content to dream about its setting in the verdant Caucasus, its exotic Circassians, veiled Georgians, and powerful Khan. Yet the ballet’s botany also played to a public thinking about ethnic and exotic others at the same time—and in the same ways—as they were thinking about plants.

Along with these stereotypes, with a flower promising hybridity in a green ecology, and the death of the embodied Source recuperated as a force for regeneration, the ballet can be read as a fable of science and the performance as its demonstration.

Programmed for the opening gala of the new Opéra, the Palais Garnier, in 1875 the ballet reflected not so much a timeless Orient as timely colonial policy and engineering in North Africa, the management of water and women.

Its 2011 reinvention at the Paris Opéra, following the adoption of new legislation banning the veil in public spaces, might have staged gender and climate justice in sync with the Arab Spring, but opted instead for luxury and dream.

Its 2014 reprise might have focused on decolonizing the stage or raising eco-consciousness, but it exemplified the greater urgency attached to Islamist threat rather than imminent climate catastrophe, missing the ballet’s historic potential to make its audience think.

This according to One dead at the Paris Opera Ballet: La source 1866–2014 by Felicia M. McCarren (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020; RILM Abstracts 2020-54905).

Above, Eugénie Fiocre in La Source, depicted by Edgar Degas circa 1868; below, an excerpt from the 2011 production.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance, Performance practice

Billy Taylor, jazz advocate

“There’s no question that being an advocate eclipsed my reputation as a musician” Billy Taylor said in a 2007 interview. “It was my doing. I wanted to prove to people that jazz has an audience. I had to do that for me.”

Taylor’s career spanned nearly 70 years and included collaborations with almost every significant performer in jazz, from Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker to Wynton Marsalis; but he had an even rarer gift for explaining his music and drawing people to it.

With a doctorate in education, Taylor was considered perhaps the foremost jazz educator of his time. He taught in colleges, lectured widely, served on panels, traveled the world as a jazz ambassador, and organized events that took renowned jazz musicians directly to the streets.

Fully conversant as a performer in the complexities of bebop, he was among the few musicians who were comfortable with explaining it to the uninitiated. “It bothered me when Diz and Bird would start talking bebop and giving nonsensical answers to what they were intelligent enough to know was a seriously meant question” he said in 1971. “It bothered me so much that every chance I got, I tried to set the record straight.”

This according to “Billy Taylor, revered musician, broadcaster and spokesman for jazz, dies at 89” by Matt Schudel (The Washington post 30 December 2010; RILM Abstracts 2010-50027).

Today would have been Taylor’s 100th birthday! Above, Billy Taylor in 2000  by John Mathew Smith is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0; below, Taylor plays Ellington’s In a sentimental mood.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers

The dervish sound dress

The dervish sound dress is a piece of wearable technology inspired by the sacred experience of the whirling dervishes of Turkey.

The garment is a body instrument that emits musical sounds when the wearer moves in it, as well as triggering a haptic vibration response. It emulates the vibrations that are felt while a musician plays an instrument, and the emotional response that the musician and a performer such as a dervish feels.

The construction of the dress involves a variety of sensors that perform according to how the sound is triggered by the movement of the wearer. These determine the output based on the rotation of the dress using gyroscopes, accelerometers that measure the speed of the dress as it is turning, and flex sensors that trigger sounds when the arms are in certain positions.

The sound design component relies on organic sound samples of the classical Turkish ṭanbūr recorded by a musician and manipulated in computer music design software. This gives the garment a unique edge by functioning as a computer digitized representation of an instrument that is activated by motions of the body. The sounds are triggered using algorithms created in Max Cycling ’74 software. These patches will detect a threshold of movement by the wearer before a sound is triggered.

This according to “Dervish sound dress: Odjevni predmet sa senzorima koji emitiraju zvuk i haptičkim odzivom/The dervish sound dress: A garment using sensors that emit sound and haptic feedback” by Hedy Hurban, an essay included in Muzika–nacija–identitet/Music–nation–identity (Sarajevo: Muzikološko Društvo Federacije Bosne i Hercegovine, 2020).

Video documentation of the dervish sound dress is here.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance, Science

Pauline Viardot’s legacy

Pauline Viardot was one of the most influential women in nineteenth century European classical music. As a singer, her prodigious talent and charisma on the stage inspired dedications, premieres, and roles written specifically for her. Her music salon hosted many major composers of the time—including Berlioz, Liszt, Chopin, Saint-Saëns, Meyerbeer, Brahms, and Wagner—allowing them to showcase and perfect their works.

Throughout her career, Viardot also worked as a composer. She composed over 100 lieder and mélodies, many intended for use as teaching tools for her own students. She also composed five salon operettas mainly intended to be sung by her pupils and children. As word of her operettas spread, she followed with larger stage works, including the very successful Le dernier sorcier, with a libretto by Ivan Turgenev.

Viardot’s later songs often involved intricate piano writing and elaborate bel canto vocal cadenzas. Jamée Ard aptly described them as “dramatic and virtuosic, painting the musical atmosphere with the broad strokes of Bizet rather than the impressionism of Debussy.”

This according to “The life of Pauline Viardot: Her influence on the music and musicians of nineteenth century Europe” by Katherine LaPorta Jesensky (Journal of singing LXVII/3 [January-February 2011] 267–75; RILM Abstracts 2011-21).

Today is Viardot’s 200th birthday! Below, Cecilia Bartoli sings her Havanaise.

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Filed under Performers, Romantic era

Journal of the Association for Technology in Music Instruction

Launched by the University of Tennessee Libraries in 2020, the Journal of the Association for Technology in Music Instruction is the official journal of the Association for Technology in Music Instruction.

The journal primarily publishes full-length and brief reports of original research, but also publishes methodological, review, and theoretical articles at all levels and across genres such as education, theory/composition, musicology, performance and music production, and music technology and music industry.

Peer-reviewed, it welcomes contributions from educators, researchers, and practitioners who are working with technologies in primary, secondary, and tertiary music education settings as well as unique learning populations. The research it publishes follows academically sanctioned methodology: experimental, case study, ethnographic, or historical.

Below, an instructional video by Robert Willey, who contributed to the inaugural issue with an article on teaching electronic music technology.

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Filed under New periodicals, Pedagogy, Science

Gumleaf redux

Herb Patten, an Elder of Koori, painter, and outstanding gumleaf player, has preserved this indigenous tradition by performing everywhere from pubs and parties to national television and the Sydney Opera House.

Patten (above) has enabled anyone to participate in this tradition with his book/CD set How to play the gumleaf (Sydney: Currency, 1999; RILM Abstracts 1999-14755). Patten’s book includes practical tips on how to select a suitable leaf and develop proper lip technique, and his demonstrations include popular and old-time songs along with the calls of several indigenous Australian birds.

Below, Herb Patten holds forth.

BONUS: Now there’s no need to imagine hearing John Lennon’s Imagine on a gumleaf.

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Filed under Australia and Pacific islands, Curiosities, Instruments

Charles Ives’s transcendental Fourth of July

Charles Ives’s The Fourth of July (1912) abounds with polymeter, polytonality, dense simultaneous layering of seemingly independent and contrasting elements, and quotations from at least 15 traditional U.S. songs and march tunes. In particular, the work includes two musical “explosions” (representing fireworks) comprising extremely dense strata of non-synchronous materials.

However, a close analysis of Ives’s compositional techniques demonstrates how the work’s many diverse elements have been integrated within a carefully organized structural framework.

Further, an equally deliberate pondering of Ives’s philosophical and aesthetic ideals illuminates how the work expresses his deep connection to transcendentalism’s search for spiritual truth in the divine oneness of the present, the ongoing fabric of human experience. In its depiction of a boy’s experience of a community’s celebration, Ives’s work points to the shared spiritual roots that underlie this communal expression; the inner relationships between its seemingly disparate elements are analogous to the oneness that pervades all things in the transcendental universe.

This according to “Beyond mimesis: Transcendentalism and processes of analogy in Charles Ives’ The Fourth of July” by Mark D. Nelson (Perspectives of new music XXII/1–2 [1983–84] 353–84; RILM Abstracts 1984-5966).

Happy Fourth of July! Below, a recording of the work by the New York Philharmonic, led by Leonard Bernstein.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities

Ora Watson, buck dancing fiddler

“I was born a-dancing” Ora Watson used to say, and indeed when she was barely old enough to stand she would try dancing on her mother’s lap at church when the music started. Watson’s father, an expert old-time musician, was also a great buck dancer, and she recalled picking up steps from him.

A farmer, mother of four, and veteran of several old-time and bluegrass bands, Watson could raise the energy on any stage by playing fiddle and dancing at the same time, often to her favorite fiddle tune, “Ragtime Annie”. In her youth she won several dance competitions, including at least one Charleston competition, and old-time buck dancing aficionados could spot the Charleston’s influence on her footwork.

This according to “Ora Watson, Watauga County’s senior musician: ‘Music keeps me young!’” by Mark Freed (The old-time herald XI/1 [October-November 2007] 16–21; RILM Abstracts 2007-29464).

Today would have been Ora Watson’s 110th birthday! Above and below, holding forth in 1993, when she was 82.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance

Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” period

Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue is one of her most universally recognized works. Generations of people have come of age listening to it, inspired by the way it clarified their own difficult emotions, and critics and musicians admire the idiosyncratic virtuosity of its compositions. The largely autobiographical albums of what might be called Mitchell’s Blue period lasted through the mid-1970s.

In 1970 Mitchell was living with Graham Nash in Laurel Canyon and had made a name for herself as a singer-songwriter notable for her soaring voice and skillful compositions. Soon, though, feeling hemmed in, she fled to the hippie community of Matala, Greece. Here and on further travels, her compositions were freshly inspired by the lands and people she encountered as well as by her own radically changing interior landscape.

After returning home to record Blue, Mitchell retreated to British Columbia, eventually reemerging as the leader of a successful jazz-rock group and turning outward in her songwriting toward social commentary. Finally, a stint with Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue and a pivotal meeting with a Tibetan lama prompted her return to personal songwriting, which resulted in her 1976 album Hejira.

Mitchell’s Blue period featured her innovative manner of marrying lyrics to melody; her inventive, highly expressive chord progressions that achieved her signature blend of wonder and melancholy; her pioneering approach to personal songwriting; and her contributions to bringing a new literacy to the popular song.

This according to Will you take me as I am: Joni Mitchell’s Blue Period by Michelle Mercer (New York: Free Press, 2009; RILM Abstracts 2009-1442).

Blue is 50 years old today! Below, the full album.

Related article: Joni Mitchell and 1960s sexuality

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Filed under Performers, Popular music