Category Archives: Curiosities

Dance video games and media ecology

 

What happens when machines teach humans to dance?

Dance video games transform players’ experiences of popular music, invite experimentation with gendered and racialized movement styles, and present new possibilities for teaching, learning, and archiving choreography.

Dance games are part of a media ecology that includes the larger game industry, viral music videos, reality TV competitions, marketing campaigns, and emerging surveillance technologies. The circulation of dance gameplay and related body projects across media platforms illuminates how dance games function as intimate media, configuring new relationships among humans, interfaces, music and dance repertoires, and social media practices.

This according to Playable bodies: Dance games and intimate media by Kiri Miller (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

Above, a Just dance session; below, a Dance central session. Both game series serve as case studies in the book, which draws on five years of research with players, game designers, and choreographers.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Curiosities, Dance, Popular music

Asante gold-dust weights

Until the second half of the mid-19th century, the Asante and related peoples of Ghana and the Ivory Coast used small brass castings made by the lost-wax process as weights for measuring their gold-dust currency.

These weights, made in large numbers by professional metal workers, came in all shapes and sizes. There were two sorts of weights: those which represent miniature objects, creatures, and activities from local life, and those in non-representational, geometrical forms.

Many of the representational weights depicted musical instruments, either on their own or being played, and activities which traditionally took place to the accompaniment of music. The great majority of these weights show only two types of instruments: ivory trumpets, and various types of drums.

This according to “Music and gold-weights in Asante” by Malcolm Donald McLeod (British museum yearbook 1980, pp. 225–42).

Above, a weight depicting a pair of atumpan drums of the Akan people; below, the atumpan in action.

1 Comment

Filed under Africa, Curiosities, Iconography, Instruments

Gershwin and Berg

Most fans of George Gershwin’s music would be surprised to learn of his admiration for an early atonal masterpiece: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. He visited Berg in Vienna, and the score he owned of Wozzeck was one of his most prized possessions; he traveled to Philadelphia in 1931 to attend the work’s American premiere.

Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess is heavily indebted to Wozzeck. These debts primarily involve structural processes, understanding structure as patterns of discrete events shared by the two operas. Motives and chords play a role in the discussion, alongside musical events that range from the large—a fugue or a lullaby—to the small—a pedal, an ostinato, or some detail of counterpoint.

Beyond the presence in both operas of a lullaby, a fugue, a mock sermon, and an upright piano, the greater relevance of these parallels and others is to be found in the ways in which Gershwin situated them in comparable musical contexts.

This according to “Porgy and Bess: An American Wozzeck” by Christopher A. Reynolds (Journal of the Society for American Music I/1 [February 2007] pp. 1–28).

Today is Gershwin’s 120th birthday! Below, the atonal fugue depicting the murder of Crown from Catfish Row, his suite from the opera.

Comments Off on Gershwin and Berg

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

From virginal to Tangentenflügel

 

A small polygonal virginal built by Franciscus Bonafinis in 1585 was ingeniously converted to a tangent piano in 1717; this was accomplished simply by replacing its jacks with shorter slips of wood and moving its strings so that they lie directly over the jack slots, producing an instrument with struck rather than plucked strings whose sound varies in loudness with the force applied to the keys. The instrument is now at the Metropolitan Museum.

Instruments employing this principle were well-known in the eighteenth century—the trend culminated in the Späth & Schmahl Tangentenflügel.

This according to “En route to the piano: A converted virginal” by Edwin M. Ripin (Metropolitan Museum journal XIII [1978] pp. 79–86).

Above, the Museum’s depiction of the instrument; below, Aleksej Borisovič Lûbimov performs on a tangent piano.

Comments Off on From virginal to Tangentenflügel

Filed under Curiosities, Instruments

Bhad Bhabie arrives

 

In 2017 a Florida teenager went from a notorious segment on the Dr. Phil show to signing a major-label record deal as a rapper.

A September 2016 episode of the daytime talk show featured a segment called “I want to give up my car-stealing, knife-wielding, twerking 13-year-old daughter who tried to frame me for a crime!” with Danielle Bregoli and her exasperated mother. Soon after airing, a clip from the episode went viral on social media. In it Bregoli dared audience members to “cash me outside, howbowdah?” (catch me outside, how about that?) The phrase—part Florida, part Brooklyn, part misconceived black vernacular English—entered the pop culture lexicon.

Having achieved her 15 minutes of fame, Bregoli was written off by most as yet another fly-by-night social media star, but music executive Adam Kluger saw something more. A pioneer in dealmaking between artists and brands, he was known for negotiating deals where pop stars were paid for endorsing clothing, dating apps, porn sites, and psychic hotlines, through product placements and other sponsored content in song lyrics and music videos.

After a string of high-profile successes, Kluger became estranged from the music industry after a deal gone bad. Following an extended vacation, he plotted his return and his revenge: “I’m going to find something that’s just so obscure, and I’m going to make it popular…I’m going to pull every trick I’ve ever pulled with brands and make someone into a walking, talking brand to prove my worth.”

Setting his sights on Danielle Bregoli, a rap music career was chosen as the best avenue for a more lasting and more remunerative form of celebrity. With her proven talent for turning a memorable phrase and her passion for rap music, the Bhad Bhabie persona (pronounced “bad baby”) was born.

This according to “The big business of becoming Bhad Bhabie” by Jamie Lauren Keiles (The New York times magazine 8 July 2018, pp. 38 ff.).

Above and below, These heaux, Bregoli’s first single, which made her the youngest rapper to have a single debut on the Billboard Hot 100.

BONUS: The clip from Dr. Phil.

Comments Off on Bhad Bhabie arrives

Filed under Curiosities, Performers, Popular music

Cuba’s corneta china

 

As one of the four main ethnic groups in Cuba, the Chinese people have made notable cultural contributions. Among the most significant of these is the corneta china, a shawm derived from the Chinese suona.

The instrument is no longer played by Chinese Cubans; rather, the corneta china has been appropriated by other ethnic groups—particularly in the eastern region of the island, where it is played almost exclusively by performers of African descent. Despite a short-lived attempt to reintroduce the instrument in Cuban performances of the Chinese Lion Dance in the 1980s and early 1990s, the corneta china and its originators have followed separate paths.

This according to “The Chinese community and the corneta china: Two divergent paths in Cuba” by Rolando Antonio Pérez Fernández (Yearbook for traditional music XLVI [2014] pp. 62–88).

Above and below, the corneta china in action.

Comments Off on Cuba’s corneta china

Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, West Indies

African pianism and musicology

 

The African pianism developed by the Nigerian composer Akin Euba (above) is not well-suited to the research style of traditional musicology, and the limitations of conventional musicological perspectives and analytical models for research on this cultural phenomenon are obvious.

Ethnomusicology and other disciplines such as cultural anthropology may provide approaches and viewpoints that can be adopted in musicological research on African pianism.

This according to “My understanding of African pianism/我对非洲钢琴艺术研究的一些认识” by Li Xin, an essay included in Dialogues in music: Africa meets Asia/亚非相遇: 中非音乐对话 (Richmond: MRI, 2011, pp. 59–68, 345–353).

Below, Kingsley Otoijamun performs an excerpt from Euba’s Scenes from traditional life.

Comments Off on African pianism and musicology

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

Psychedelic vegetables

 

In 1967, in the hands of Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson, the incongruous, semantically complex figure of the vegetable came to illuminate aspects of psychedelic consciousness and—partly by design, partly by accident—the link between LSD and Anglo-American popular music.

Their vegetable imagery also illuminated the scope and limits of changes in the relationship between creative artists and the Anglo-American popular music industry in the mid-1960s; and in retrospect, the figure of the vegetable cast into relief the counterculture’s utopian and dystopian dynamics as manifested in these songwriters’ personal lives.

This according to “The vegetables turned: Sifting the psychedelic subsoil of Brian Wilson and Syd Barrett” by Dale Carter (Popular music history IV/1 [April 2009] pp. 57–75).

Below, one of the songs discussed in the article—Wilson’s Vegetables, which is rumored to include the sound of Paul McCartney chewing celery.

Comments Off on Psychedelic vegetables

Filed under Curiosities, Food, Popular music

Poster stamps

Poster stamps, or Reklamemarken, were advertising labels or seals printed like postage stamps on perforated sheets of adhesive paper.

Widely used and extremely popular before World War I in Europe, especially in Germany, these little collectibles almost disappeared after World War II.

As music iconography, they are exemplified in a collection of recorder-themed poster stamps recently donated to the American Recorder Society by Ewald Henseler, the author of “Not postage stamps—but recorder poster stamps” (American recorder LIX/1 [spring 2018] pp. 32–39).

Above, recorder poster stamps advertising Tobler chocolate; below, a chocolate recorder. Don’t miss the climactic ending!

Comments Off on Poster stamps

Filed under Curiosities, Iconography, Instruments

Coltrane’s saxophonic scream

The critical reception of John Coltrane’s saxophonic scream—an incredibly high-pitched, raw, and intense explosion of timbre—demonstrates how our precognitive reaction to sonic timbres can invoke tropes of masculinity and race.

A perceptual/cognitive approach that focuses on the degree to which the listener identifies with the sound, citing recent research on the neurophysiology of audition, locates a biological reason for the phenomenon of musical empathy—the perception that in listening to a sound we also participate in it. Our participation, however, is culturally conditioned.

Coltrane’s saxophonic scream was variously interpreted by music critics as the sound of black masculine violence and rage or as a sign of the jazz icon’s spirituality, a transcendent sound. Music critics’ visceral, embodied interpretations of Coltrane’s saxophonic scream turned on their reactions to the birth of free jazz in the context of the U.S. civil rights movement.

This according to “Theorizing the saxophonic scream in free jazz improvisation” by Zachary Wallmark, an essay included in Negotiated moments: Improvisation, sound, and subjectivity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016, pp. 233–44).

Below, Coltrane’s performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1966.

Comments Off on Coltrane’s saxophonic scream

Filed under Curiosities, Jazz and blues, Performers, Reception