In early 2005 Béla Fleck traveled to Tanzania, Uganda, Gambia, and Mali to meet, jam, and record with an impressive array of musicians, bringing along a recording engineer, a film crew, and enough gear to ensure that no encounter would go unrecorded. He accompanied the player of a massive marimba in Uganda, played with kalimba masters and harpists in Tanzania, and encountered a possible banjo ancestor—the akonting—in Gambia.
In an interview, Fleck explained that his aggressive travel agenda was part of a strategy to circumvent his inner control freak. “By putting myself in a situation where I couldn’t really be completely prepared, I was forced to dig deep into things that I do that I can’t tell you where they come from. I have been pegged as a complicated guy, and so it’s funny that I feel freer not being complicated in this setting.”
This according to “Béla Fleck’s Africa Project” by Banning Eyre (Guitar player August 2009).
Today is Fleck’s 60th birthday! Above and below, excerpts from his award-winning film Throw down your heart.
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.
RILM’s one millionth record is now online!
The record documents 音乐考古学与古代音乐遗迹研究 (Archaeomusicology and research on music relics) by 方建军 (Fang Jianjun) (Zhongguo yinyue/Chinese music 3:147  pp. 75–82, 106).
Fang’s article discusses the relationships between archaeological environments and musical functions, between ancient workshops and the building of instruments, and between soundscapes and music performance, with reference to archaeomusicological sites in Europe and Africa as well as China. China has many such sites, among them Xiaoshuangqiao of the early Shang dynasty (16th–11th century B.C.E.) in Henan province, Sanxingdui in Sichuan province, and the Neolithic tomb sites at Jiahu village, also in Henan province.
Above, flutes excavated at the Jiahu site; below, reproductions of bronze bells from a tomb dated around 433 B.C.E.
In 2016 RILM announced the release of RILM abstracts of music literature with full text on EBSCO Information Services. Today we celebrate the publication of our 200,00th full-text record!
The milestone record is a review by Markus Lutz of Martin und Johann Christian Hoffmann: Geigen- und Lautenmacher des Barock—Umfeld, Leben, Werk (Leipzig: Hofmeister, 2015) published in Journal of the Lute Society of America (XLVI pp. 80–88). Above, a lute made by Johann Christian Hoffmann; below, a copy of a lute made by Martin Hoffmann.
Highlighting this review gives us an opportunity to remind you that reviews in RILM’s database are always linked to the item under review—so when you read a book review the record for the book itself is just one click away!
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.
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.
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.
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 Stones’ Ruby 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).
In 1940 Alexander Rose (1901–85, above) received a U.S. Patent for his Typatune, a toy piano with a QWERTY typewriter keyboard. He seems to have been destined to create this curious invention both through his vocation as a court stenographer and his choice of a wife—one Clara Berger, daughter of Samuel Israel Berger, a noted maker of toy typewriters.
World War II may have caused a moratorium on the Typatune’s manufacture, as the toy did not appear on the market until shortly before Christmas 1945, when it was widely advertised.
The purchaser of a Typatune also received a spiral-bound booklet showing which keys to press to produce a number of popular melodies. Two models have been identified—one in a red rexine case and one in an off-white wooden case, both with a collapsing carry-handle. A later development was the addition of a hinged lid to protect the keyboard. All versions carry the label Made in Switzerland.
This according to “Neither one thing nor the other: Alexander Rose’s Typatune” by Arthur W.J.G. Ord-Hume (The music box: An international journal of mechanical music CCVIII [summer 2017] pp. 48–50).
Below, a brief demonstration with an inside view.
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.