Category Archives: Curiosities

King Saul’s music therapy

The course of King Saul’s music therapy with the young shepherd David, as told in 1 Samuel, 16 and 18, exactly corresponds to the current state of psychotherapeutical knowledge, which holds that the quality of the relationship ultimately determines whether therapy succeeds or fails.

On the assumption that Saul’s affliction was the manifestation of an early, preverbal trauma (in today’s psychopathological terminology, a depressive breakdown in the context of a personality structure with damaged self-esteem), the initial therapeutic success is attributed primarily to the positive transference between therapist and patient, and only secondarily to David’s music-making. It follows logically that this therapy takes a malign course at the point when Saul’s positive transference becomes negative.

This according to “Heilung durch Musik? Der biblische Mythos von David und Saul als klinische Fallstudie” by Dagmar Hoffmann-Axthelm, an essay included in Rhythmus und Heilung: Transzendierende Kräfte in Wort, Musik und Bewegung (Münster: Lit Verlag, 2005, pp. 83–92).

Above, Rembrant’s depiction of the episode; below, Händel imagines David’s therpeutic harp playing in Saul, HWV 53.

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Filed under Antiquity, Curiosities, Therapy

Black Sabbath and Nietzsche

Black Sabbath draws upon gods who are older than Satan. Dionysus and Apollo, pagan gods from ancient Greece, were there with Black Sabbath at the birth of heavy metal.

Nietzsche wrote about the importance of the satyr chorus in ancient Greek tragedies. Wild, horny goat men, satyrs became the Christian model for Satan. Heavy metal iconography invites us to see past those satanic images to the lustful satyrs of long ago.

If Nietzsche had been a Black Sabbath fan he would have written lines like “What good is heavy metal that does not carry us beyond all heavy metal?”

This according to “Gods, drugs, and ghosts: Finding Dionysus and Apollo in Black Sabbath and the birth of heavy metal” by Dennis Knepp, an essay included in Black Sabbath & philosophy: Mastering reality (Malden: Blackwell, 2013, pp. 96–109). Above and below, the group’s Grammy Award-winning God is dead?

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music

The Wiener Staatsoper’s safety curtain

The Wiener Staatsoper has conceived of its stage curtain as an exhibition space for a museum-in-progress.

Every year since 1998 its safety curtain, which measures 176 meters square, has been used as an exhibition space for a large-format artwork by a contemporary artist. The series has represented a symbolic interface between performance and visual arts, and creates a link between historical questions and contemporary ways to address them.

This according to Curtain/Vorhang by Kaspar Mühlemann Hartl (Wien: Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2017). All of the curtains in the series may be viewed here.

Above, Graduation by John Baldessari, the curtain for the 2017–2018 season. Below, a brief video provides the curtain’s context.

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Filed under Curiosities, Visual art

Beethoven’s coffee

A visitor to the 39-year-old composer’s Vienna apartment described Beethoven’s personal habits in notoriously disparaging detail—a picture curiously contrasting with the same reporter’s observations of his fastidious attention to his favorite beverage.

“For breakfast he had coffee, which he usually prepared himself in a glass machine. Coffee seems to have been his most indispensable food, which he prepared as scrupulously as the Turks. Sixty beans were calculated per cup and were often counted, especially when guests were present.”

This according to “Beethoven’s 60 coffee beans” by Leonardo Ciampa (The American organist LII/3 [March 2018] pp. 50-51).

Below, a highly caffeinated performance by Peter Schickele.

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Filed under Classic era, Curiosities, Food, Humor

Konakkoḷ in pedagogy and performance

Konakkoḷ is an important part of the Karnatak music curriculum in South India. The unique aspect of this pedagogical tool is that it is also a performance medium on its own. Classical concerts in India have featured a konakkoḷ soloist performing a vocal percussion solo in the same way that a jazz concert may feature a drum solo.

Konakkoḷ is appealing in its beauty and allows students to express their musical rhythms in performance tempo (even when it is very fast). This relates directly to how music is felt internally by a performer and is precisely why it is of great use in Western music education.

This according to “South Indian konnakkol in Western musicianship teaching” by Tony Tek Kay Makarome (Malaysian music journal V/1 [2016] pp. 37–52). Above, Trichy R. Thayumanavar, a renowned konakkoḷ performer; below, a demonstration.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Pedagogy

Singing flames

 

As early as the 18th century physicists were experimenting with tones produced by the effect  of flames on nearby glass tubes, and in 1873 the physicist Georges Frédéric Eugène Kastner developed a keyboard pyrophone.

More recently, singing flames have been featured in mixed media works by artists such as Andreas Oldörp, whose Singende Flammen (1988) was installed in a preexisting tunnel beneath Hamburg’s Hans-Albers-Platz. Composers who have used singing flames in their work include Alvin Lucier.

This according to “Singende Flammen: Andreas Oldörps Arbeiten zwischen Experiment und Installation” by Volker Straebel (Neue Zeitschrift für Musik CLX/2 [März-April 1999] pp. 45–47).

Above, Kastner’s pyrophone; below, two views of singing flames in Sydney’s Darling Harbour in 2011.

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Filed under Acoustics, Curiosities, Instruments, Science

The Goree All-Girl String Band

The members of the Goree All-Girl String Band, all inmates in the Texas state prison system, used country music’s gender iconography in their struggle for greater autonomy and ultimately freedom in the 1930s and 1940s.

Their incarceration and past violations of the norms of feminine passivity and virtuousness placed them beyond the pale of country music’s prevailing image of valued femininity: the sentimental mother, who embodied home, domesticity, and a lost rural past. But through the alternative roles of dutiful daughter and cowboy’s sweetheart they performed their way to rehabilitation, both symbolically (as women who had returned to their proper place) and literally (as convicts who had served their time or gained clemency).

Though largely forgotten today, the Goree Girls’ popularity during their broadcasting years demonstrates that while country audiences may have venerated the sentimental mother, they also identified with and embraced women whose relationship to dominant gender ideals was fraught with complications.

This according to “As if they were going places: Class and gender portrayals through country music in the Texas State Prison, 1938–1944” by Caroline Gnagy, an essay included in Country boys and redneck women: New essays in gender and country music (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2016, pp. 126–45).

Below, a selection from a musical based on the Goree Girls’ story; information on the 2017 production is here (scroll down). A film produced by Jennifer Aniston is reportedly in the planning stages; information on that topic is here.

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Women's studies

Bicycles as interactive instruments

Movable Party is a mobile, real-time interactive music system where audience-participants pedal stationary bicycles to generate power and perform interactive music, creating a bustling public and streetside vibrancy in the decentralized metropolis of Los Angeles.

The system consists of three stationary bicycles, each equipped with rear wheel hub motors that generate enough energy to power a medium-sized public address system. The bicycles are also equipped with sensors to track rear wheel speed as well as rider position, transforming them into interactive musical instruments in two different modes: Interactive DJ and Step Sequencer.

The Interactive DJ mode enables a laptop performer to create and mix music with data from the three bicycles. The Step Sequencer mode enables rider-participants to directly control a three-voice, eight-step sequencer. Sonic mappings are focused on representation of rear wheel speed, which translates directly to power generation.

This according to “Movable Party: A bicycle-powered system for interactive musical performance” by Steven Kemper, Wendy F. Hsu, Carey Sargent, Josef Taylor, and Linda Wei, an essay included in Music technology meets philosophy: From digital echos to virtual ethos (San Francisco: International Computer Music Association, 2014).

Many thanks to Pryor Dodge for bringing this to our attention! Above and below, Movable Party in action.

#bicycle

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Science

The Mozart Post Office

In 1904 Ole Lund, a Swedish immigrant living in Minnesota, applied to the Canadian authorities for a piece of land under the Dominion Lands Act of 1872. On receiving the allotment, he moved there with his wife, Julia.

The next year the province of Saskatchewan was established, and the Canadian Pacific Railway began its expansion westward; surveyors chose the Lund farm as their base of operation, and it became apparent that there would be a station depot not far from the Lund Homestead.

The railroad company offered to name the place Lund. The Lunds declined, and Julie Lund suggested that the hamlet be named after her favorite composer, Mozart. The name was accepted, and Mozart, Saskatchewan, officially came into being on 1 April 1909.

In the 1970s postcards with a line drawing of the town’s post office were made available for sale in the nearby cooperative store (above). Mozart’s 222nd birthday, 27 January 1978, was an extremely busy day for the postmaster of the Mozart Post Office, who had to oblige stamp collectors from all over the world who were anxious to have the anniversary cancellation.

This according to “The Mozart Post Office” by S. Sankaranarayanan (Sruti 376 [January 2016] pp. 54–55). Below, the celebrated “Letter duet” from Le nozze di Figaro.

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Filed under Classic era, Curiosities, Iconography

Air guitar and Asian fury

Competitive air guitarists have long understood that their art form provides an ideal means for contesting the overwhelming whiteness of rock and the electric guitar, sometimes extending their critique to include gender as well.

Asian and Asian American competitors in particular have used their performances to comment ironically on the emasculation of Asian males and the infantilization of Asian females through the construct of Asian fury, helping audiences to reimagine the linkages between race and rock.

This according to “Asian fury: A tale of race, rock, and air guitar” by Sydney Hutchinson (Ethnomusicology LX/3 [fall 2016] pp. 411–33).

Above and below, David “C-Diddy” Jung, winner of the first U.S. national air guitar championship and perhaps the originator of the term Asian fury as it applies to air guitar; the video shows his award-winning performance in 2003.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance, Humor, Popular music