Electronic Beeps In The Office

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:48 am

I was sitting at my desk the other day, minding my own billings, when I heard two electronic beeps go off at the same time. The first was the printer in the copy room, beeping to indicate the job it was printing was finished; the second was the microwave in the kitchen down the hall, beeping to indicate the food it was cooking was finished. In any case, they beeped at the same time. The interval between the two beeps was a minor second (e.g. the distance between C and C-sharp), but it was a very small one–the notes were closer together than a half-step. A minor second is defined as 100 cents; I don’t really know, but maybe this was 70 cents. (For prior TLB discussions of tuning and temperament, click here.) It was a very small interval, and a very shrill and displeasing sound.

I wonder who creates the beeps in machines like that. Do the engineers or manufacturers know what note their beep will be? Do they design it with a particular note in mind? Does anyone other than me care?


Seán Dunnahoe's Website

Posted by AJ Harbison at 1:42 am

I learned on Tuesday night at the BeachFire audition that Seán has a website set up now. I mentioned his senior recital way back in my post on the Vox Balaenae principle, and when I wrote the post in May I asked him if he had a website that I could link to in the post. He didn’t at the time, but he does now, so I would be remiss if I didn’t link to it here. You can find his page at:


He has the recordings from his senior recital posted there, and I encourage you to listen to them. The first and third pieces from the recital, Structum and Corcaigh, are on the Jazz Music page; Textural Study, the piece I mentioned in my post, can be found on the Concert Music page. You can also find program notes on each of the three pieces here. As I wrote about, his style of writing isn’t always easy to listen to; but I guarantee it will broaden your listening horizons.


A Personal Announcement

Posted by AJ Harbison at 5:00 pm

I am thrilled to announce that as of Thursday night, my lovely girlfriend has become my lovely fiancée, and I’m an engaged man! I took her out to a nice dinner at Ti Amo in Laguna Beach where we watched the sunset, and after dinner we walked down to the Table Rock beach. I popped the question and she said yes! We’ll likely be getting married early next year, somewhere around February – March. I’m very excited (and so is she), and although I know many of my loyal readers have already heard the news, I’m happy to be able to share it with all of you!


BeachFire Audition

Posted by AJ Harbison at 5:06 pm

My very talented friend Seán Dunnahoe found a posting on Craigslist a week or two ago, calling for acoustic solo and group acts to audition for a live and possibly weekly gig at a bar’n'grill called the BeachFire in Ladera Ranch. So he suggested that he and I get together, work up some of my original songs and jam there. So we did.

Tuesday night was the audition, which we discovered was really more of an open mike event. The general manager was there and listening, so in that sense he was gauging the acts to see whom he might want to hire; but there were plenty of customers there listening as well, and it was just like playing a short set on stage.

Seán plays hand percussion (as well as drum set and a zillion other instruments), so he brought congas, bongos, a fish-skin tamborine and (as I mentioned before) Irish bones, which I called “clickety things” for the benefit of our listeners during the set. We were the first band to play, after a “house band” guitar player warmed up for us. We did five songs altogether: “Who I Am,” “Too Far,” “Remember,” a Dave Matthews Band song called “Grey Street,” and as an encore my all-time most popular song “Coastin’”. We rocked it–I did a good job playing and singing, and Seán was awesome as I knew he would be. We got lots of compliments afterwards; many people asked us how long we had been playing together, and were subsequently surprised when we told them this was our first gig. “He’s played stuff before, I’ve played stuff before, but this is the first time we’ve played together.”

The BeachFire’s general manager told us that he’s pretty much booked through January; but he said he would get back to us at that time and see what his schedule looked like, and I said we’d be more than happy to fill in if he had a last-minute cancellation. He seemed to like what we did, and I know that if we were to be hired to play it would be a paying gig; so we’ll see what happens in January!


Glass Violin

Posted by AJ Harbison at 8:07 pm

I’m going to apologize in advance for not posting much this week; I have something scheduled every single night from yesterday (Monday) all the way through Sunday. But I’ll try to post an update on Sean’s and my audition tonight in a day or two, and in the meantime, you can enjoy this post!

On our road trip last fall, one of our stops was in Colonial Williamsburg, a reconstruction of Williamsburg, VA as it existed in colonial times, complete with artisans plying trades the way they were plied at the time and reenactments of historical Revolutionary War events. I was particularly interested in a musical demonstration by Dean Shostak (www.crystalconcert.com), a musician who plays all manner of glass instruments from colonial times (such as Ben Franklin’s glass armonica of 1761) up to some crazy instruments of the present. On my cell phone I captured a video of him performing on a glass violin–a marvel of modern musical engineering, and one of only two that exist in the whole world. The video quality is bad, and you can’t even really see the violin because of the lighting, but you can hear how the sound is different from a normal violin: more silvery, thin, sparkling yet haunting–much like you’d expect a glass violin to sound.

And here are some photos, for those of you who didn’t believe that he was really playing a glass violin:

Wind instruments have a long history of being made from lots of different materials, flutes in particular–everything from metal to wood to glass to clay. But stringed instruments less so. Props to Shostak and whoever had the engineering and musical savvy to construct a violin made of glass.


A Music-Filled Weekend

Posted by AJ Harbison at 10:34 pm

One of the vendors I work with asked me yesterday if I had any big plans for the weekend, and as I explained to her what I’d be doing, I realized that I have been and am going to be playing guitar. A lot.

First of all, this past Wednesday was the 2nd Annual Art Show at my company, Rauxa Direct. It was a free show whose participants were employees and friends and family of employees (basically anyone who wanted to enter), and although there was technically a contest it was really just an exhibition. It was pretty cool and I recruited several of my artistic friends to submit art pieces; I myself played guitar as a representative of a non-visual art. I played a two-song “showcase,” and then later a longer set as “background music,” although by that point there were only a few people left (one of which was my lovely and loyal girlfriend). It was a lot of fun performing, even if it was not the most flattering of venues, because I hadn’t played for a while. Pictures will be forthcoming next week and will show up on my website. (If you’d like to check out my photo gallery before then, feel free to click here.)

On to the weekend! Last night (Friday) I had a rehearsal slash jam session with my composer/percussionist friend Seán Dunnahoe, whom I mentioned in this post. We’re going to be auditioning for a performing gig at a place in Ladera Ranch on Tuesday night, performing a few of my original songs and a Dave Matthews Band cover. I’ll be playing guitar and singing, of course, and Seán will be rocking out on congas, bongos, shakers and Irish bones. (Bones are, by the way, THE single coolest instrument I have ever seen played. And Seán ROCKS on them.)

On Saturday, I’ll be in Redlands playing guitar and singing with the Jeff Mercer Band at the Saturday night River of Worship service (I wrote a TLB post about the band here). It looks like we’ll probably be playing “Just As I Am” again, as well as some more of the Jeff Mercer Band original songs that are being worked on for the CD.

Then on Sunday morning, I’ll be back in the OC, playing guitar and singing for the first time with the worship band at the church that my lovely girlfriend and I attend. That should be exciting as well.

My fingers are going to be rather sore, come Sunday afternoon….


Your Sentence: Classical Music

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:01 am

From Urbana, Illinois: Guy listens to rap music too loud. Bicycle-riding cop tickets him based on noise ordinance. Judge offers to reduce fine from $150 to $35, if guy listens to 20 hours of classical music. Guy lasts fifteen minutes, then pays fine.

Man sentenced to listen to classical music lasts 15 minutes

News story: Points for really cheesy puns. Minus points for weird capitalization. “DeBussy”? Come on.


Of Planes And Pitches

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:03 am

On Sunday night my lovely girlfriend and I were attending an evening service at our church in Newport Beach. The speaker was giving his message, and he was coming to a significant, meaningful point with a bit of heightened emotion. Right as he began making this point, a plane flew overhead, creating a steady low note (I feel like it was a C-sharp, but I could be completely wrong about that). It was very interesting; it felt like a movie score moment, as if music was starting to play just as he was coming to the inspirational part of his message. The interesting thing was my conditioned response to the sound I heard. As I’ve mentioned before, my office is close to the airport, so I’m very much used to hearing the sounds of planes flying overhead; but it seems I’m so much more used to hearing music enter at an emotional point in a movie that my initial reaction to the sound was a musical one, rather than an extramusical one.

Of course, subsequent to the plane I heard a few other outside noises, and tried to interpret them as pitches too, with much less success. But the situation made for an interesting observation about myself and my interpretive tendencies.


"Cemeteries In London," Viva La Vida, Coldplay

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:30 am

It took me a little longer than the other ones, but the final song I fell in love with on Viva La Vida was “Cemeteries Of London,” which is track two. The other songs on the CD, the ones I haven’t written about this week–”Life In Technicolor,” “42,” “Lovers In Japan / Reign of Love,” “Yes,” and “Strawberry Swing”–are all good songs and of course contribute to making the CD great; but the five I’ve written about this week are the ones that really stood out to me.

“Cemeteries Of London” is the first vocal track on the CD, since there are no words to “Life In Technicolor,” and it’s a really interesting song. As I said, it took me longer to understand than the others did, but once I got the feeling for the song it jumped into the ranks of my favorites on the CD. And this is what I think: It’s Coldplay’s 21st century rock-band version of a ballad of the Wild West.

You know the type of song I’m talking about. Something like the song here, although I have to admit that the first thing I thought of was this video clip (from this movie). It’s a good example, although almost a parody, of the style I’m talking about; but if you do watch the video, skip to the 50 second mark to experience as little pain watching it as possible.

But this is the type of song that “Cemeteries Of London” is. The lyrics, first of all, point to it; they’re kind of eerie and very evocative, conjuring the same type of mood as a ballad, and the chorus sounds just like one of them: “Singing la la la la la la la lay / And the night over London lay….” The chord progression and melody are very suggestive of a Western ballad too–particularly in the first two chords of the progression, minor i to major III (e.g., in the key of E minor those two chords would be E minor and G major).

I like the instrumentation of the song. The soft swirling piano figures in the first verse do a good job of setting the scene, evoking perhaps the London fog, and the guitars that take over in the second verse hearken more traditionally back to the ballad style. You can also hear hand claps enter the picture halfway through the second chorus that continue through the guitar solo. The solo itself is very interesting; apart from the first note and the return to that note upon the repeat, each note that the solo pauses on is dissonant with the concurrent chord. It sounds really cool. The second half of the solo (a repeated four-note idea) is reminiscent of a U2 solo, to my mind. The soft piano comes back at the very end of the song, playing two phrases. I didn’t like this at first, because it didn’t make sense musically; it seemed out of place and just tacked on to the end. But I grew to really like the phrases themselves, so I really enjoy it now. Perhaps it’s another example of a cyclical song, bringing the song full circle, as I wrote concerning the whole album in my post about “Death And All His Friends”.

There’s one more point about this song that I wanted to mention, related to a point I brought up in my last post about setting up expectations and then either fulfilling or frustrating them. The chorus of this song is another good example of this principle. It’s only two lines, which is short for a chorus (it’s really more like a refrain, I guess), and you expect it to be repeated, either with the same lyrics or different ones. But each time it’s kept to just the two lines–except for the last time, when it is repeated and the lyrics to the second line are slightly changed, fulfilling the expectations you’ve had all along. Another good example of the excellent songwriting.

You can listen to the song here, courtesy of Last.fm: click on the black play button in the player on the right side of the page.

And that will conclude our week of Viva La Vida posts! I hope you enjoyed them. And, while we’re talking about the week–I want to hear from you, my loyal readers. Do you like these weeklong series on a single topic or album? Do you prefer the individual posts I do the rest of the time? Would you like to see more series? Fewer? Leave a comment and let me know what you want to see–and as always, thanks for listening!


"Violet Hill," Viva La Vida, Coldplay

Posted by AJ Harbison at 1:45 am

About the same time I fell in love with “Viva La Vida,” I also came to particularly enjoy “Violet Hill,” which is the track immediately following it (track eight). “Violet Hill” was the first single off the album, and also represents a departure from Coldplay’s past style into the brave new world of Viva La Vida. Again, I will make a quick mention of the lyrics, but say nothing besides “they’re really awesome.”

“Violet Hill” begins with 35 seconds of swirling atmospherics, again Brian Eno‘s ambient/electronic influence. At the 35-second mark, the voice enters, accompanied by a quarter-note-pounding piano in C-sharp minor. The rest of the band comes in a few lines later, with a similar pounding pulse feeling. The fun thing about this song is that based on the general feel of the music and the piano and melody, you might expect it to be a mellow piano ballad; but instead it’s a hard-hitting rock song that (again) I rock out to in the car all the time.

The quarter-note pulse pervades the song, particularly in the “interludes” after the refrain line “If you love me won’t you let me know?,” which consist of eight identical quarter hits–two measures–with nothing in between, just 1! 2! 3! 4! 5! 6! 7! 8! An excellent use of musical space, and a great use of musical energy as well.

The song ends with a quiet coda, the voice accompanied only by a soft, tender piano. (The lyrics to this coda are very good, as well–I love the rhyme of “Violet Hill” with “silent still.”) There is a chord progression detail here which perfectly indicates a musical principle I learned in college, though unfortunately I’m unable to attribute it to its source because I can’t recall its source. The principle is that when writing music, you set up expectations in the listener–based on what happens, the listener expects certain things to happen next. Then, you balance fulfilling those expectations with thwarting the expectations by doing something else. The refrain line mentioned above concludes, in all parts of the song except the coda, with the following progression: C-sharp minor – B major – C-sharp minor (which in the piece is i – VII – i*). Because of the way the rhythm and the melody frame this progression, it sets up the expectation of a deceptive cadence, following the progression C-sharp minor – B major – A major (the VI chord). But the song frustrates this expectation by resolving instead right back up to the C-sharp minor chord. This happens three times (it’s right before the “interludes” mentioned above; the second C-sharp minor chord is the one hammered on eight times). However, in the coda, with only the piano accompanying the voice, the expectation is finally met: the B chord resolves down to the A major, setting up a “tagged” repetition of the last line, ending on the C-sharp minor. I’m sorry if that was a bit technical–I think if you listen to the song, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

Again, this song leaves me wanting more, since minus the 35-second introduction it’s really only three minutes long. But oh, what a rocking three minutes.

You can listen to the song here, courtesy of Last.fm: click on the black play button in the player on the right side of the page.

* If there are any classically trained musicians who read this blog, they may object that the major flat seven chord doesn’t really exist in a minor key. But if we’re being honest, it’s used in pop music all the time, and it really does function as a VII, not as a V/III. Sometimes you just have to accept the way things really are, and not as they appear in music textbooks. (And sometimes you have to hope that at least one reader–just one!–actually knows what the heck you’re talking about.)


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