04.21.2009

Spill – Kinetic Music

Posted by AJ Harbison at 9:46 pm

While researching something completely unrelated last week, I ran across this video on YouTube. It’s a live performance of a piece called Spill, composed by one Erik Griswold, and it’s very intriguing. It consists of a swinging pendulum that also acts as a funnel, slowly pouring thousands and thousands of rice grains onto the ground as it moves back and forth. The performer then places things like bowls and sheets of paper beneath the funnel, creating different timbres and sometimes pitches as the rice pours over them. It’s strangely mesmerizing. What do you think? Is this music? It’s certainly organized and orderly, and more aesthetically pleasing than, say, this piece of John Cage’s. You can check out the website of the performer and composer at http://www.clockedout.org.

What I really want to know is: Who gets to clean up the mess afterwards? And is that considered part of the performance?

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01.21.2009

World's Fastest Finger Snapper

Posted by AJ Harbison at 6:18 am

As a long-awaited follow-up to my post on the world’s fastest clapper (come on, you know you’ve been waiting), I hereby present to you the world’s fastest finger snapper. I’ve watched several YouTube videos of people claiming to be the fastest, but this guy takes the cake. And he refuses to show his face in the videos, which (according to your perspective) is either really cool or really lame. Enjoy!

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01.16.2009

Birdsong

Posted by AJ Harbison at 7:19 pm

I work in a small office across the street from my company’s main office in Costa Mesa, and I walk back and forth to the main office once a day or so. I just headed over there to make a dropoff, and on my way back I noticed some birds singing in the trees by the side of the road. Birdsong is a sound I unfortunately hear only seldomly here in Orange County, often drowned out by the constant hum of freeways and cars on busy streets. But because of that, it’s a beautiful and refreshing sound–and a peaceful one, even when the birds themselves are chattering excitedly. Good for the soul.

And in that vein, I’d like to present you with the same sound. In March of last year, I came across a post on A Payne Hollow Visit, a blog that I often disagree with but read in order to acquaint myself with an opposing point of view. The author posted the video embedded below, a soundtrack of birdsong and flowing water with still photos of trees and creeks near his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. At the time I enjoyed the video very much and it felt very refreshing. I hope it feels the same to you!

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01.07.2009

Raves At Stonehenge

Posted by AJ Harbison at 8:57 pm

MSN.com today is featuring a story regarding an acoustic study of Stonehenge, the mysterious ancient stone monument in England. The original purpose of Stonehenge has baffled researchers for centuries, but this new study suggests that the stones may have been intentionally placed to reflect and amplify sound. Check it out!

“Stonehenge: One Totally Awesome Rave Location”

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10.30.2008

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?

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10.15.2008

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.

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09.14.2008

Clapping Music, Steve Reich

Posted by AJ Harbison at 7:58 pm

To close out the week of clapping posts, I present to you Clapping Music, an actual piece of art music by a real-life composer consisting only of clapping. The teacher of my composition class at CSUF, Lloyd Rodgers, told us about a performance of this piece at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles: two grown men holding a concert audience transfixed simply by clapping onstage.

The piece Clapping Music, written in 1972, is by Steve Reich, one of America’s most important living composers. Reich is also one of the most prominent composers of minimalist music. Minimalist pieces usually consist of short cells or motives that are repeated continuously, gradually undergoing slow processes of change. Clapping Music fits this bill and also represents a variation of Reich’s idea of “phasing.” In this concept, two performers begin by playing, say, an 8-note-long melody in unison, and player B begins to speed up very gradually until his second note is in unison with player A’s first note (thus player B is now “out of phase”). They play in unison again for a while, and then player B speeds up slowly again until his third note is in unison with player A’s first note, and so on all the way through the cycle until they are playing the same melody in unison as at the beginning. (The Wikipedia article on Reich’s piece Piano Phase provides a more detailed explanation of how phasing is practially applied in that piece.)

In Clapping Music, the two performers begin by clapping the same rhythm in unison. After a few repetitions of this pattern, player B pauses for one beat and then claps the same rhythm one beat behind. After a few repetitions of that pattern, player B pauses for another beat and then claps the same rhythm two beats behind. The piece cycles through the whole rhythm this way, and it ends with the performers clapping the same rhythm in unison again. (You can see Reich’s handwritten score here.)

If there was a YouTube video of that WDCH concert, I’d love to share it with you; but this one isn’t half bad. Apparently it’s from a doctorate recital at the University of Texas at Austin in 2005. If you’re interested in learning more about the piece, I recommend reading the program note by the performer under “More Info” on the video’s YouTube page. Or you can just watch the video below. I love how the first performer begins the clapping piece by joining in with the audience’s applause.

And that concludes our week of clapping posts! Give yourselves a hand!

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09.13.2008

"Clapping Canon," AJ Harbison

Posted by AJ Harbison at 4:26 am

One more clapping piece for your listening pleasure–and I promise, this one is cooler than the last one.

Our other clapping assignment in the composition class was to compose a clapping canon–where one voice (in Latin called the “dux” or “lead”) would begin, and the second voice (called the “comes,” or literally, “friend”) would imitate the first exactly. Kinda like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “Three Blind Mice.” This piece sounds more interesting than the last one and has cooler rhythms because the interplay between the two (or rather four) hands is more specifically focused on interacting with each other, and more complicated because the imitative part is fixed based on the leading part, and the leading part then has to play something against what it just played a few measures before.

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(Just in case you were wondering how I did on these assignments: both of them got an “A” grade; the ostinato was also marked “Nice” and the canon “Good counterpoint.”)

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09.10.2008

"Clapping Ostinato Duet," AJ Harbison

Posted by AJ Harbison at 2:02 am

In my junior year at CSUF, I took the “Composition” class–not applied composition lessons, but an actual class on composing. The first piece we wrote for the class was a monophonic (i.e. single melody line) chant in free rhythm using only a certain scale, to allow us to focus on melody without worrying about rhythm as well. The second and third pieces we wrote were clapping pieces, so we could focus on rhythm only, devoid of pitch.

My first clapping piece was a clapping ostinato duet. “Ostinato” simply means that one of the parts repeats a rhythmic pattern over and over again, which in this piece happens to be the following one-measure rhythm:

The ostinato part repeats this exact same rhythm in every measure of the piece, albeit at varying dynamic levels (sometimes soft, sometimes loud), while the other part changes rhythms freely and plays with and against the ostinato.

You can listen to a brand-new performance of this piece by clicking on the player below. I performed both parts, and my clapping chops have never been terribly skilled, so it’s not a perfect performance but it’s passable and it will give you a feel for what a clapping piece might sound like. N.B. In order to make it easier to hear the two parts separately, I panned the ostinato almost all the way to the right and the other part almost all the way to the left. Thus the piece is best experienced with stereo speakers or headphones.

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09.09.2008

A Week Of Claps

Posted by AJ Harbison at 4:30 am

This week on TLB we’ll be examining a subject familiar to everyone–clapping. After finding several things I wanted to share with my readers on the topic, I decided I could make a week of it. So in the next few days you can look forward to several exciting musical and non-musical applications of the curious human custom of clapping.

And now, for my first post, a brief YouTube video. Apparently certified by the official Guinness people, this guy is the world’s fastest clapper–the record is 721 claps in one minute, 12 claps per second.

Pretty impressive, huh? It’s amazing what the human body is capable of, with enough practice. (And enough free time on one’s hands.) (No pun intended.)

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