Posted by midiguru on October 24, 2013
Musicians and listeners alike have individual tastes in musical style. One person loves classical and can’t abide jazz — another digs jazz and falls asleep at classical concerts. One person is committed to death metal, another detests it but loves Celtic folk.
That much is obvious. What’s less obvious is the extent to which each musical preference is the expression of certain social values.
Before I get to the point I’m aiming at, let’s look at one or two familiar examples. Classical symphonic music relies on a high degree of regimentation. The musicians have, basically, no opportunity at all to be spontaneous. This type of music arose to its pinnacle of success and respectability during a historical era (the 19th century) when society at large embraced those same values.
Today, society has changed, but symphonic music hasn’t. At concerts, the musicians still wear the type of evening clothes that were worn by the upper classes at the end of the 19th century. Audiences, of course, can wear whatever they like. This social disconnect probably tells us everything we need to know about the declining popularity of classical music.
Jazz has gone through various stylistic periods. The big bands of the swing era Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on September 20, 2013
For the past week I’ve been on a Reply All email list in which experimental musicians are being loudly abusive of those who don’t like their music. (I’m one of the latter, which is how I got on the list — the exchange started with a concerted attack on me, but it has now broadened its scope, and I’m mentioned only occasionally.)
I don’t mind the bashing too much, but it does strike me as a curious pastime. Today’s crop included an email (I won’t say from whom) that included this gem: “These hateful assholes should ultimately be ignored – after they’ve had their legs broken….;)”
The question that needs to be asked is not, I think, “Why are these people so angry?” Some people are angry at the world, for one reason or another. Some of the angry people make music. This is not surprising. Their anger does seem to spill over into their music; it quite often sounds angry. That’s okay too.
A more appropriate question might be, “Why do angry musicians insist that their music should be admired?” If you’re going to make angry music, shouldn’t you just sort of take it for granted Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on September 7, 2013
Toward the end of last year I posted a little essay (“Bent or Broken”) in which I expressed dismay at some of the music being composed, performed, and uploaded by avant-garde microtonalists. I was careful to suggest that my own tastes in music are somewhat conservative. This disclaimer was, of course, an invitation to those who might disagree with me to simply shrug and ignore what I had to say.
Unfortunately, one of the artists whose work I criticized has taken rather extreme exception to what I wrote. I have now removed his name from that post, though I left my unflattering characterization of his recording intact. Nor will I mention his name here. Not content to email me privately, he has now taken the step of sharing his opinions of what I wrote with others in the microtonal community.
This is his right, of course. I feel very bad about upsetting him, and I have apologized for it, but that doesn’t seem to have mollified him. I suggested to him, in an email, that different people have different tastes in music, and that both he and I are entitled to our own disparate tastes. As well as I can figure out, however, he seems to be taking the position that I’m an idiot because my tastes don’t agree with his.
He hasn’t used the word “idiot.” He has, however, referred to me as “lazy” and “an empty shirt,” and to my opinions as “sadistic” and “comical.” In an email that was apparently sent to at least one other person and cc’d to me, he said this: “…until we purge this bullshit out of our Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on June 18, 2013
What if you had a piece that was a rook sometimes and a knight sometimes? Ooh, that could be good.
As I continue my leisurely stroll through the fallow, yet fertile fields of chess variants, I’m finding a few fascinating oddities. For one thing, the field seems to be a lot less active than it was ten years ago. The Chess Variant Pages is still on the Web, but if you click through to their “Variant of the Month” page, you discover that nobody has even bothered to nominate a variant of the month since 2006.
My guess: smartphones. The kind of geeky guys who think chess variants are cool are mostly the kind of geeky guys who like downloading apps to their smartphones. I guess I’m the exception. The only app I’ve ever downloaded was Pandora, and that’s so I can listen to music while I’m at the gym.
But then, I lost interest in chess variants ten years ago too. Here’s another theory: Inventing variants is easy. Playing them well is a lot harder. And the more variants there are, the less likely you are to master any of them.
Even so, the possibilities are endlessly intriguing. Using a standard chess board — or maybe one that’s 8×10 or 10×10 at most — you can staff the players’ armies with a huge variety of dynamic and mind-boggling pieces. And if you want to try out these pieces in actual game-play, it’s easy — Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on June 12, 2013
Over the course of the last 50 years I have had only three dentists. All of them were Mormons, as it happens, and all three were excellent. Coincidentally, my current dentist bought his offices from the first dentist when the latter retired. Today I get my teeth cleaned in the same room where these fillings were done when I was a teenager.
In a couple of months I’m scheduled to go into the Medicare system. Kaiser Permanente offers supplemental Medicare coverage that pays for a dentist. (At present, I’m paying cash, because I only need the routine cleanings.) The supplemental coverage is through an HMO plan called DeltaCare Dental. DeltaCare has three dentists in Livermore, so this morning I drove around to check them out.
I was not impressed.
The first office I stopped at was closed, although the sign in the window alleged that it’s open on Wednesdays. The third office was also closed, and the sign in the window indicated this was normal. (Closed on a Wednesday?) The third office was in a strip mall, tucked between a hair salon and a donut shop. Not a promising location in which to find a great dentist.
The second office was open. I didn’t have a lot of questions on my agenda, but I asked how long the two dentists practicing there had been in that location. “Since February,” the young woman said. (It’s now June.) “Before that they were down in the South Bay.” I’m thinking, why would they relocate? No patients? But I didn’t ask that.
The office looked and sounded, frankly, deserted except for the woman behind the counter. “How many hygienists do you have working here?” I asked.
“No hygienists,” she replied. “Just the two dentists.”
Okay, so these two dentists have so little business they’re doing the routine cleanings themselves? And the other two offices are closed on a Wednesday morning. I think I need to talk to somebody at Kaiser about this. It smells a little fishy.
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Posted by midiguru on May 27, 2013
When my brain is idling, it sometimes drifts off in the direction of chess. I’m a lousy chess player, probably because I’ve never spent any time studying the intricacies of the game. Studying chess is a cumbersome process, because you have to memorize hundreds of variations on dozens of commonly used openings.
Over the past 200 years, many fine chess players have explored just about every conceivable series of opening moves to great depth. The real game-play begins only after eight or ten moves by each player, when you’ve plodded out past the end of the dock and dropped into the water. Assuming you know where the dock is; if you don’t, you may find yourself plunged into the water early on — not a good thing.
Another reason chess is less than captivating for me is because the computer can always beat me. The computer can beat almost everybody, a fact that’s bound to be at least mildly discouraging if you’re looking for an absorbing pastime.
Chess is not a single game; it’s a huge family of games. Chinese and Japanese chess have long traditions of their own. The original game seems to have been invented in India, from where it spread both eastward and westward. In addition, dozens of modern versions Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on May 3, 2013
Physicists describe the universe, or attempt to, using systems of equations. In order to create accurate descriptions, the equations make use of certain numerical constants — things like the speed of light and the strength of gravity.
What’s odd about these constants is that they seem almost have been fine-tuned so as to allow living beings such as ourselves to exist. If the force of gravity were just slightly smaller, for instance, stars and galaxies would never have formed. The entire universe would consist of a rapidly expanding cloud of gas. On the other hand, if gravity were just a little stronger, the stars and galaxies we see would all have collapsed into black holes. No planets, no sunlight, and perforce no scientists to look through telescopes and think about these things.
For those who believe in God, such a state of affairs is not difficult to explain. God created it that way, so that folks like us could come into being. Appeals to divine intervention are not, however, given much credence by scientists. Yet on the other side of the coin, it seems an awfully big coincidence that our universe should happen to have the characteristics that it is observed to have.
We do know that the universe we observe seems to have had a beginning, or something very like a beginning. About 13.8 billion years ago, our universe was extremely hot, extremely dense, and no bigger than the head of a pin. Since then, it has been expanding rapidly. Our most sophisticated Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on March 16, 2013
After being away from the computer for a couple of days, I return to a big dose of crazy-making news clips, all at once. (And I haven’t even glanced at the bulletins from CPAC. I’m scared to.) As upsetting as these bits are, seeing them all in a compressed space of time makes it easier to notice the common thread that runs through all of the stories.
Rachel Maddow has new details on the Sandy Hook shootings, and lets us watch the freshman senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, try to lecture Diane Feinstein on the Second Amendment. Since Feinstein became mayor of San Francisco in 1978 following the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, it’s pretty clear Cruz picked the wrong antagonist, but apparently nothing is going to stop him. He thinks it’s just peachy for us all to own high-capacity automatic rifles.
Saving the lives of children doesn’t interest him. Unless, I suppose, they haven’t yet been born. Once they’ve been born, just mow them down. Ted will give you a medal.
On the other side of the aisle, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York grills some generals about the entire failure of the military justice system to deal with rape. She tries to get the generals to say that justice hasn’t been served, and they duck and weave and tap dance to avoid admitting it.
Over in North Africa, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is forthrightly opposing a U.N. resolution that attempts (toothlessly) to prevent violence against women. Apparently these guys don’t even give a moment’s thought to how vicious Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on March 10, 2013
Many years ago, when I was editing Chick Corea’s column for Keyboard, he suggested to me that I really ought to read Dianetics, by L. Ron Hubbard. I wish I still had the note Chick sent; at some point along the way, I must have tossed it.
I did in fact pick up a copy of Dianetics at Chick’s suggestion. I read about 20 pages. All I remember about it, after more than 30 years, is that Hubbard started out by redefining some ordinary words to mean entirely new things. Or possibly he just started using the words in new ways without bothering to define them. Technically speaking, it was gobbledygook. Its main appeal, it seems to me, would be to people who are desperately seeking answers to life’s deeper questions but lack the critical thinking skills that would let them sort out which are the good answers and which are the nonsensical ones. Assuming there are any good answers, which I think is very questionable.
Call me a seeker. Today I’m reading Journey into Consciousness, by Charles Breaux. It purports to reveal connections between Tantra and Jungian psychology. At first glance, it seems more sensible than some books on such subjects. That’s why I brought it home from the library. But as I dig deeper, it begins to remind me of Dianetics. Not in its details, mind you, but in the fact that you’re expected to take as factual a bunch of stuff that is neither defined nor adequately explained.
According to Gautama Buddha, Breaux tells us, “All life is in flux, and trying to establish something solid and permanent leads to suffering. Feeling attached to Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on March 10, 2013
My friend Marco steered me to a critique of Dean Radin’s book The Conscious Universe, and I have to admit that the critique (though at times very silly) scored a few direct hits. Not having a degree in statistical analysis and not, moreover, having access to any of the original data Radin cites, I’m in no position to say yea or nay with respect to whether telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition exist. Radin seems to make a strong case, but the accusation he levels at skeptics — that they’re only seeing what they want to see — applies equally to him.
The statistical data is provocative, first because there seems to be quite a lot of it and second because none of it is very persuasive. That is, if telepathy is real, it seems odd that it would be so difficult to demonstrate in a clear way. The statistics pile up, but even if they mean what Radin thinks they mean, they all show a very slight effect.
This may be because the scientists are designing their studies badly. The telepathy experiments Radin describes uniformly use senders and receivers who have no special bonds to one another, and the data they’re supposed to send and receive is of no special emotional significance. If telepathy exists, those are not the conditions under which we would expect it to show up! Quite the contrary. Indeed, most of the anecdotal material about supposed telepathic communication, which of course we can’t duplicate in the laboratory because it’s anecdotal, concerns Read the rest of this entry »
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