Tag Archives: Curiosities

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.


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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

The Original Pinettes Brass Band

Playing on male-gendered instruments, the members of the all-women Original Pinettes Brass Band contest the male domination of the New Orleans brass band scene, queering the normative relationship between instruments and musicians and carving out a space for female musicianship.

The group’s songs and performance decisions present agential and subjective sites of black feminist thought put into action to subvert the brass band patriarchy. The Pinettes force us to view the New Orleans brass band scene as an intersectional site where gender is a central element in the construction and consolidation of power relationships.

This according to “Street queens: New Orleans brass bands and the problem of intersectionality” by Kyle DeCoste (Ethnomusicology LXI/2 [summer 2017] pp. 181–206). Below, the Pinettes in 2016.

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Women's studies

Hindustani music on the cello

After a chance encounter with a colleague who had studied Indian music, Nancy Lesh decided to spend a summer holiday in India. Having been trained in Western classical music for 12 years, she had assumed that Indian music was “less refined”—but she fell deeply for Hindustani music, and began training in dhrupad, transferring the vocal style to her cello.

Eventually she began to study with the renowned Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, modeling her playing on the rudra vīṇā, the only instrument on which dhrupad is played. “Sixteen years later,” she says, I realize that this music is just beginning to mature within me.”

This according to “Hindustani music on cello” by S. Sankaranarayanan (Sruti 179 [August 1999] pp. 39–41). Below, a performance from 2013.

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Jazz and unexpected stimuli

Creativity has been defined as the ability to produce work that is novel, high in quality, and appropriate to an audience. While the nature of the creative process is under debate, many believe that creativity relies on real-time combinations of known neural and cognitive processes.

One useful model of creativity comes from musical improvisation, such as in jazz, in which musicians spontaneously create novel sound sequences. A study used jazz musicians to test the hypothesis that individuals with training in musical improvisation, which entails creative generation of musical ideas, might process expectancy differently.

Researchers used EEGs to compare the brain activity of 12 jazz musicians (with improvisation training), 12 classical musicians (without improvisation training), and 12 non-musicians while they listened to a series of chord progressions. Some of the examples followed typical Western chord progressions, while others followed atypical ones.

Jazz musicians had a significantly different electrophysiological response to the unexpected progressions, indicating that they had an increased perceptual sensitivity to unexpected stimuli along with an increased engagement with unexpected events.

This according to “Jazz musicians reveal role of expectancy in human creativity” by Emily Przysinda, Tima Zheng, Kellyn Maves, Cameron Arkin, and Psyche Loui (Brain and cognition CXIX [December 2017] pp. 45–53).

Below, the Miles Davis Quintet plays Wayne Shorter’s Nefertiti, a work often cited for its use of unexpected chords; above, Davis, Shorter, and Herbie Hancock in 1964.

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Filed under Curiosities, Jazz and blues, Science

Recorders in 1960s pop

While the recorder is still best known as an early music instrument, its revival in the 20th century led to its adoption as a modern concert instrument by a number of composers, and even in jazz.

The recorder also figured, at least briefly, in the British pop music boom of the mid-1960s, when Klaus Voormann played it on Manfred Mann’s Semi-detached suburban Mr. James and Trouble and tea, and Brian Jones played it on The Rolling StonesRuby Tuesday (above and below); the latter featured “a very obbligato recorder part which weaves intricate counterpoints over the basic melody in a very effective and interesting way” according to Richard D.C. Noble, who reported on the phenomenon in “The recorder in pop: A progress report” (Recorder and music magazine II/5 [May 1967] pp. 135–36).

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Popular music