Category Archives: 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.

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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!

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

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Filed under Black studies, Curiosities, Jazz and blues, Performers, Reception

Karinding Attack’s heavy metal bamboo

Karinding Attack is a group from Bandung, West Java, that performs original songs, covers international death metal hits, and engages in collaborations with musicians who specialize in other genres—all to the accompaniment of Sundanese bamboo musical instruments that were virtually extinct only 20 years ago.

After the Sundanese people’s embrace of a hegemonic modernity in the 20th century relegated these instruments to obscurity, their efflorescence represents an alternative modernity in which, instead of adopting disdain for their own past as the primitive Other against which European hegemonic modernity is constructed, Sundanese people construct their own history against which to articulate a coherent Sundanese modernity.

This according to “Heavy metal bamboo: How archaic bamboo instruments became modern in Bandung, Indonesia” by Henry Spiller, an essay included in Studies on a global history of music: A Balzan musicology project (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018, pp. 241–55).

Below, Karinding Attack covers Sepultura’s Refuse/Resist.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Instruments, Popular music

Beats and bites

In an experiment, eleven subjects unknowingly participated in a study of the effects of music tempo on the number of bites per minute and the total time of the meal.

Three music conditions were used: fast tempo, slow tempo, and no music. A significant increase in the number of bites per minute was found for the fast-tempo condition, suggesting arousal as a possible mediator. No difference was found in total time of meal.

A questionnaire revealed no evidence that subjects were aware of the music.

This according to “The effect of music on eating behavior” by Thomas C. Roballey et al. (Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society XXIII/3 [1985] pp. 221–22). Many thanks to Improbable research for bringing this study to our attention!

Above and below, do diners chew faster at the Hard Rock Cafe?

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Filed under Curiosities, Food, Science

Multiple Beninese temporalities

The Gangbé Brass Band’s Alladanou makes specific historical, linguistic, and musical references to Benin’s precolonial, colonial, and postindependence histories. These references can serve as a point of departure for exploring the song’s relationship to the royal court style adjògàn.

The Cameroonian political theorist Achille Mbembe’s concept of multiple temporalities illuminates the historical flexibility at play in Gangbé’s album Togbé, and an analytical framework for analyzing Alladanou proceeds from an interest in audience, relationality, the Fon concept of gbè (voice or sound), and resonance.

This according to “‘People of Allada, this is our return’: Indexicality, multiple temporalities, and resonance in the music of the Gangbé Brass Band of Benin” by Sarah Politz (Ethnomusicology LXII/1 [winter 2018] pp. 28–57).

Below, the song in question.

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Filed under Africa, Curiosities, Popular music

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