Heinz Bohlen, R.I.P.

Since Herr Bohlen passed away recently I’ve wanted to write something but couldn’t find the words. Sometimes music can express things that words cannot, or would do so only clumsily. Heinz has been in our thoughts lately and I’m so glad that we had a lot of correspondence last summer. With heavy-lifting from Paul Erlich and Martin Gough we solved a puzzle that he had proposed years ago. I hope to write it up this spring or summer and share it here.

Now I happen to be writing a paper about a piece in Bohlen-Pierce (and Carlos alpha) tuning which will be played at the funeral service today. This is just a coincidence but lets me be there in spirit; I can’t be there physically but will hear about it from my musical partner and muse, Nora-Louise Müller. Continue reading

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Writing Tools

Happy new year! I did entertain the idea of writing on Dec. 31st so that I would have one article for 2015. Alas, it didn’t happen. But I have been writing. Since Oct. 2014 I’ve contributed a chapter for a book and in between moving and having a baby with my partner, I’ve managed to squeeze out a solid third of my dissertation. During the past year I’ve tested many approaches and programs to help me, so perhaps this would be a blog topic to begin 2016, in case you are writing a large document and are considering what software to use. Continue reading

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For a mini-vacation my partner and I went to Amsterdam and heard our colleague Melle Weijters in recital. He’s a fantastic guitarist and specializes in microtonal instruments, and on Sunday he played his 31-tone guitar with the 31-tone organ—handled by Guus Janssen—at the Muziekgebouw. I don’t do reviews but I can point you to one (in Dutch or English). Instead I’ll write a few short thoughts from that afternoon. Continue reading

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I finally saw STOMP and it was fantastic. A production came through Hamburg and I caught the last show, though a little late because of bicycle problems and train problems. As a drummer and someone interested in dance and theatre this was a must-see!

The setting is gritty and urban, like an alley in a big city, near a junkyard. The performers wear grungy clothing oozing with character, like punk or krunk. Are we in London or Los Angeles? New York or Berlin? It doesn’t matter: the scene is familiar to everyone, and the appropriated street-signs plastering the set are in many languages anyway.

There are eight performers in non-speaking roles, meaning there’s no dialogue. There is, however, plenty of interaction between ‘character types,’ especially at the beginning and ending of each scene—or number, or piece. Hard to categorize Stomp and know which vocabulary to use since it is not one art form but many: dance + theatre + music + circus. YouTube has plenty of excerpts so you may see for yourself what they do on stage. Basically a percussion piece using everyday objects, choreographed to dancing (talented performers!) and exceptionally tricky, taking it into the level of circus arts. Mind-blowing, really, and fully deserving of being famous. Continue reading

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84ed2 (2): George Orwell and Microtonality

In part two we will build a tenuous bridge between the composer John Cage and writer George Orwell. I already started with the banner picture of Cage performing on a TV show called Good Morning Mr. Orwell, from 1984. Orwell, of course is most famous for his dystopian book 1984 and the previous article introduced Cage’s late system of composing with microtones derived from adding six new notes between normal semitones, resulting in 84 equally-spaced tones per octave instead of the usual 12.

I doubt there is an International Standardization Organization definition of the semitone but we shall define it as a musical interval with the frequency ratio equal to the 12th root of the 2nd harmonic, and we shall define 1 cent (¢) as 1/100th of this semitone, giving 1200 cents per 2nd harmonic or octave, and 100 cents per semitone.

If we divide 1200¢ by 84 steps we get about 14.3¢ per step, which is quite small, close to the ‘just noticeable difference’ where it’s hard to distinguish one tone from the next. The frequency ratio (which we don’t need now but should know how to calculate) is the 84th root of 2, or 2 to the power of 1/84 ≈ 1.00828589.

Bear with me because things are about to get more interesting. Continue reading

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84ed2 (1): John Cage and Microtonality

Cage’s final period was notable, unsurprisingly, in at least two or three respects: he devised a system of time bracket notation with varying degrees of rigidity and looseness, he entitled his works with a dry, basic numbering system, and three of his last works were microtonal. Continue reading

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Fish Out of Water

__A friend of mine (let’s call him Jimmy) wrote a play which is in rehearsal now. He’s an actor and I was reminded of when we met, when we were both in a play nearly ten years ago. This story concerns music-theatre, which is going to be a focus of mine for a while, and one example of the audition process and of crossing disciplines.
__Jimmy had auditioned for R. Murray Schafer, the composer, for a music-theatre show, probably one of his large-scale outdoor promenade operas. When he finished his monologue, some text from straight-up dramatic theatre, the panel asked him to make some weird sounds and to use his body and voice in a grotesque, expressionistic manner.
__Jimmy dug deeply into his soul and his psyche, to root up those experiences that haunt him when he’s not consciously keeping his demons locked in the cellar of his mind. He uttered forth some expectorant, toxic, gurgling, half-strangled scream that ripped through his shuddering body and spewed into the theatre, leaving him panting and nearly sweating with the effort.
__“That’s fine,” said someone, unseen. “But could you please do that again, only this time louder and longer, and maybe go from some low notes to high, then back again?” Continue reading

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