Tag Archives: Curiosities

Marcel Duchamp, noise, and music

 

Starting in 1912, Marcel Duchamp incorporated musical concepts and structures into his work, thereby promoting the emancipation of noise and confirming composition and music-making as a cottage industry.

Duchamp’s Avoir l’apprenti dans le soleil (To have the apprentice in the sun, 1914) was created at a time when the artist was concerned with the challenges of combining elements of various arts. The cyclist is a symbol of the French avant-garde and the modern spirit; the viewer sees the cyclist’s effort to mount the staff lines as a contrast between silence and noisy corporeality. The battle between the arts is not to be ironed out by means of assimilation, but must be fought out or brought to a détente in the artwork itself.

This according to “Marcel Duchamp, John Cage und eine Kunstgeschichte des Geräusches/Marcel Duchamp, John Cage and an art history of noise” by Michael C. Glasmeier, an essay included in Resonanzen: Aspekte der Klangkunst/Resonances: Aspects of sound art (Heidelberg: Kehrer, 2002, pp. 49–70).

Today is Duchamp’s 130th birthday! Above, the drawing in question; below, the artist describes his readymade À bruit secret (With hidden noise, 1916): “Before I finished it Arensberg put something inside the ball of twine, and never told me what it was, and I didn’t want to know.”

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Filed under Curiosities, Visual art

Swearing on the scepter

At their commencement ceremony, graduates of the Universität für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Wien (MDW) swear to remain forever true to their alma mater with the words Ich gelobe! (I swear!) while touching the university’s scepter.

Designed by the renowned Viennese sculptor Ferdinand Welz, the head of the scepter depicts King David playing his harp. The scrolls under the figure read Universitas rerum musicarum et artis dramaticae vindobonensis and Musica est bene modulandi scientia, the latter drawing on a quotation from Augustine of Hippo.

This according to “Daz zepter der MDW/The sceptre of the MDW” by Christian Meyer (MDW-magazin 2017/2, pp. 22–25).

The MDW celebrates its 200th anniversary this year! Above, three views of the scepter’s head (click to enlarge); below, the anniversary’s official visualization.

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Filed under Curiosities, Iconography

Drumming cockatoos

 

All human societies have music with a rhythmic beat, typically produced with percussive instruments such as drums. The set of capacities that allows humans to produce and perceive music appears to be deeply rooted in human biology, but an understanding of its evolutionary origins requires cross-taxa comparisons.

Drumming by palm cockatoos (Probosciger aterrimus) shares the key rudiments of human instrumental music, including manufacture of a sound tool, performance in a consistent context, regular beat production, repeated components, and individual styles.

Throughout 131 drumming sequences produced by 18 males, the beats occurred at nonrandom, regular intervals; yet individual males differed significantly in the distribution parameters of their beat patterns, indicating individual drumming styles. Autocorrelation analyses of the longest drumming sequences further showed that they were highly regular and predictable, like human music.

These discoveries provide a rare comparative perspective on the evolution of rhythmicity and instrumental music in our own species, and show that a preference for a regular beat can have other origins before being co-opted into group-based music and dance.

This according to “Tool-assisted rhythmic drumming in palm cockatoos shares key elements of human instrumental music” by Robert Heinsohn, Christina N. Zdenek, et al. (Science advances III/6 [2017]).

Above, a male cockatoo (right) drumming with a stick for a female; below, a video produced by the research team.

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Filed under Animals, Curiosities, Science

Thoreau’s ear

Henry David Thoreau was the only nineteenth-century American writer of the very first rank who paid prolonged and intense attention to sound-worlds, particularly non-human ones. As a naturalist, his fieldwork involved not only botany but also sound-collecting.

Thoreau’s writings illuminate how he understood music as sound. He discussed ambient sound and animal sound communication in acoustic ecological niches; he understood that sound announces presence and enables co-presence; and he developed a relational epistemology and alternative economy based in sound. His responses to the vibrations of the environment through prolonged and deep listening make him valuable for sound studies today.

This according to “Thoreau’s ear” by Jeff Todd Titon (Sound studies I/1 [2015] pp. 144–54).

Today is Thoreau’s 200th birthday! Below, one of Charles Ives’s meditations on the man and his work.

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Filed under Curiosities, Literature

The Dancing Queens of Mumbai

For many Indian hijras—a casteless and classless queer minority—badhais (ritualistic music and dance) are the only available means of revenue aside from sex work and bar dance; this has been the practical reality for hijras for nearly two centuries of legal persecution.

While the current reality does not bode well for the continuation of hijra badhais as we once knew them, newly emerging transgender ensembles like Mumbai’s Dancing Queens are introducing new possibilities for hijra performativity and empowerment.

Established within a reconstituted urban Indian context, new adaptive strategies are predicated on the exchange of devalued ways of encoding hijra difference for updated, modern ones based upon the distinctly LGBTIQ discourse of pehchān (acknowledgement of the self, or identity). The Dancing Queens’s staging of pehchān empowers hijras through a global transgender lexicon while simultaneously renewing particular preexisting performance repertoires of homo-sociality.

This according to “The Dancing Queens: Negotiating hijra pehchān from India’s streets onto the global stage” by Jeff Roy (Ethnomusicology review XX [2015] pp. 69–91). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, the Dancing Queens in action.

BONUS: Ready for more? Here’s a full performance.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Dance

Roll over, Stradivari?

Old Italian violins are routinely credited with playing qualities supposedly unobtainable in new instruments. These qualities include the ability to project their sound more effectively in a concert hall—despite seeming relatively quiet under the ear of the player—compared with new violins.

Although researchers have long tried to explain the mystery of Antonio Stradivari’s sound, it is only recently that studies have addressed the fundamental assumption of tonal superiority. Results from two studies show that, under blind conditions, experienced violinists tend to prefer playing new violins over Old Italians. Moreover, they are unable to tell new from old at better than chance levels.

In two separate experiments, three new violins were compared with three by Stradivari. Projection was tested both with and without orchestral accompaniment. Projection and preference were judged simultaneously by dividing listeners into two groups.

The results were unambiguous. The new violins projected better than the Stradivaris whether tested with orchestra or without, the new violins were generally preferred by the listeners, and the listeners could not reliably distinguish new from old. The single best-projecting violin was considered the loudest under the ear by players, and on average, violins that were quieter under the ear were found to project less well.

This according to “Listener evaluations of new and Old Italian violins” by Claudia Fritz, Joseph Curtin, Jacques Poitevineau, and Fan-Chia Tao. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 8 May 2017).

Above, detail from Antonio Stradivari in his atelier by Antonio Rinaldi; below, a report on one of the experiments, including excerpts from interviews with Fritz and Curtin.

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments

Rhythm and experimental psychology

 

In the laboratories of 19th-century experimental psychologists, new concepts of precision-oriented, mechanically regulated musical time emerged as a positive ideal—one that led to the ubiquity of the metronome in the training and practice regimes of classical musicians and pervasive understandings of “good” and “bad” musical rhythm in the 20th century.

Most notably, Wilhelm Wundt included a metronome in the assembly of clockwork instruments employed in his research into the variables of human perception and action. His experiments helped to shape and define modern concepts of rhythm, radically shifting the concept of musical rhythm from a subjective, internal pulse reference to an objective, unerringly precise phenomenon independent of human agency.

At the turn of the 20th century, other psychologists, such as Carl Seashore, disseminated these scientific ideals to a wider public through important music publications, and by the 1920s such ideals were becoming pervasive among both amateur and professional music practitioners.

This according to “Refashioning rhythm: Hearing, acting and reacting to metronomic sound in experimental psychology and beyond, c. 1875–1920” by Alexander Bonus, an essay included in Cultural histories of noise, sound and listening in Europe, 1300–1918 (Abington: Routledge, 2017, pp. 76–105).

Above, Dr. Wundt (seated) and colleagues in his psychological laboratory, the first of its kind, ca. 1880; below, an abridged version of György Ligeti’s Poème symphonique for 100 metronomes.

BONUS: For the purists, a complete performance of Ligeti’s work.

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Filed under Curiosities, Source studies

The Hormel Girls

In 1946 the Hormel company created a unique organization to employ World War II veterans as musicians to market food products.

Over a seven-year period the Hormel Girls, a drum-and-bugle corps, conducted door-to-door sales, worked with local retailers in cities and towns across America, formed a professional orchestra and a choir to enhance their stage shows, and produced a weekly national radio broadcast.

This was possibly the most successful musical-marketing strategy in the history of partnerships between music and industry. The women received outstanding pay and benefits, the company doubled its profits during the group’s existence, and the performers were professional-level musicians on a par with members of other professional ensembles of the era.

This according to “The Hormel Girls” by ­Jill M. Sullivan and Danielle D. Keck (American music XXV/3 [fall 2007] pp. 282–311). Top, the group ca. 1947; center, in 1952. Below, Elisa Korenne’s Hormel Girls, illustrated with vintage photographs.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, Performers, Popular music, Women's studies

Le Pétomane and physiological symbolism

When he was about ten years old, Joseph Pujol discovered that he had the rare ability to draw air into his anus and expel it at will.

Not content to have a simple party trick, he trained his sonic instrument just as others would train their vocal chords, and by young adulthood he could produce a startling range of sounds, nuanced with tonal, timbral, and dynamic variation, and animated by his natural sense of humor. By the 1890s he was performing as Le Pétomane to packed audiences at the Moulin Rouge.

Pujol’s idiosyncratic career has rarely been considered as an historical object—and when it has, the gaze has been light-hearted and filled with puns, much like those that surrounded him in his lifetime. But if the temptation to giggle is resisted for a moment, Le Pétomane can teach us much about symbolic physiological meanings in late nineteenth-century Paris.

This according to “The spectacular anus of Joseph Pujol: Recovering the Pétomane’s unique historic context” by Alison Moore (French cultural studies XXIV/1 [2013] pp. 27–43).

Today is Pujol’s 160th birthday! Below, Le Pétomane in action (silent).

BONUS: A recording from 1904.

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Filed under Dramatic arts, Humor, Performers

HipHop Academy Hamburg

HipHop Academy Hamburg’s rappers, dancers, and beatboxers use hip hop as a platform of integration, shaping feelings of belonging and perceptions of dual identities.

The Academy’s 2013 production DISTORTION examined migrant descendants’ places in Germany and provoked audiences to contemplate the new faces of the nation. This symbiosis of hip-hop and contemporary dance performed macro- and micro-political integration, illuminating how the boundaries of German national identity are disrupted by the presence of interculturality.

This according to “Ich fühle mich Deutsche: Migrant descendants’ performance of integration through the Hamburg HipHop Academy” by Emily Joy Rothchild, an essay included in Transglobal sounds: Music, youth and migration (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016, pp. 155–76).

Above and below, excerpts from DISTORTION.

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Filed under Black studies, Curiosities, Dance, Pedagogy, Popular music