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  • feedwordpress 08:01:37 on 2018/06/04 Permalink
    Tags: , Capitol Records, , , Lou Naidorf, Michael Bierut, music, Raymond Loewy, recording industry,   

    “Successful design is not the achievement of perfection but the minimization and accommodation of imperfection”*… 

     

    click here for larger version

    From legendary designer Raymond Loewy [see here], a chart published in 1934 that shows the evolution in design of items such as cars, telephones, stemware, railcars, clocks, and women’s apparel. Loewy was known was “The Father of Streamlining” and these drawings very much reflect his design style. (via @michaelbierut)

    Explore at: “Raymond Loewy’s 1934 chart of the evolution in design.”

    Then check out MacRae Linton’s conversion of Loewy’s chart into a proper timeline.

    * Henry Petroski

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    As we contemplate craft, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that music industry insiders Johnny MercerBuddy DeSylva, and Glenn E. Wallichs founded Capitol Records.  By 1946, Capitol had sold 42 million records by artists including (Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, and Kay Starr) and was established as one of the “Big Six” record labels.

    In 1955, Capitol became a subsidiary of British label EMI and began construction on a new headquarters building designed by Lou Naidorf.  Known as “the House the Nat Built” (as Nat King Cole was the label’s steady sales leader), it was the first circular office building in the world.

    Capitol, which had an output deal with its UK parent, built on their early 60s success with the Beach Boys by acquiring the Beatles record rights in the U.S. (though they passed on other EMI acts like the Dave Clark Five, Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Hollies, the Swinging Blue Jeans, The Yardbirds, and Manfred Mann).

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:30 on 2018/05/07 Permalink
    Tags: Brahms, , , music, , polyphonic music, polyphony, Tchaikovsky,   

    “The only truth is music”*… 

     

    The earliest known practical example of polyphonic music – a piece of choral music written for more than one part – has been found in a British Library manuscript in London.

    The inscription is believed to date back to the start of the 10th century and is the setting of a short chant dedicated to Boniface, patron Saint of Germany. It is the earliest practical example of a piece of polyphonic music – the term given to music that combines more than one independent melody – ever discovered.

    Written using an early form of notation that predates the invention of the stave, it was inked into the space at the end of a manuscript of the Life of Bishop Maternianus of Reims.

    The piece was discovered by Giovanni Varelli, a PhD student from St John’s College, University of Cambridge, while he was working on an internship at the British Library. He discovered the manuscript by chance, and was struck by the unusual form of the notation. Varelli specialises in early musical notation, and realised that it consisted of two vocal parts, each complementing the other.

    Polyphony defined most European music up until the 20th century, but it is not clear exactly when it emerged. Treatises which lay out the theoretical basis for music with two independent vocal parts survive from the early Middle Ages, but until now the earliest known examples of a practical piece written specifically for more than one voice came from a collection known as The Winchester Troper, which dates back to the year 1000.

    Varelli’s research suggests that the author of the newly-found piece – a short “antiphon” with a second voice providing a vocal accompaniment – was writing around the year 900.

    As well as its age, the piece is also significant because it deviates from the convention laid out in treatises at the time. This suggests that even at this embryonic stage, composers were experimenting with form and breaking the rules of polyphony almost at the same time as they were being written…

    More background at “Earliest known piece of polyphonic music discovered.”

    [TotH to @pickover]

    * Jack Kerouac

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    As we hum along, we might send melodic birthday greetings to two descendants of the author of the piece above:

    Johannes Brahms, the pianist and composer who was a stalwart of the Romantic Period, was born on his date in 1833.

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    And Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Brahms’ Russian Romantic counterpart– the first Russian composer to make an international impression–  was born on this date in 1840.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:03 on 2018/05/02 Permalink
    Tags: Dance Rally 4 Peace, , music, , rhythm and blues, , The #PurpleSyllabus, , University of Minnesota   

    “I like to open people’s eyes”*… 

     

    The #PurpleSyllabus presents essential topics, readings, and multimedia related to Prince. Prince’s impact and influence spreads across nearly all aspects of society and culture. This syllabus presents works written by scholars and journalists across diverse topics. Our hope is that this syllabus will serve as a resource for teachers and curriculum designers looking to infuse their classrooms and courses with Prince content.

    Created by Prince fans affiliated with the University of Minnesota Libraries in conjunction with the Prince From Minneapolis Symposium

    Dive deep at “The #PurpleSyllabus.”

    * Prince

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    As we acclaim The Artist, we might recall that it was on this date in 2015 that Prince staged a Dance Rally 4 Peace at Paisley Park to pay tribute to Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American who died in police custody after his arrest in Baltimore, and to show support for the activists protesting his death.  With his backup band 3RDEYEGIRL, Prince performed a 41-minute concert including his protest song “Baltimore,” which was inspired by Gray’s death.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:43 on 2018/04/30 Permalink
    Tags: Bird, , , Jay McShann, , Jem Finer, , , music, slow,   

    “For fast acting relief, try slowing down”*… 

     

    Jem Finer’s initial calculations for his Longplayer project

    From the newsletter of the Long Now Foundation

    Time is evoked in music in countless ways. In the first article in this series, we explored some of the long-term themes in Brian Eno’s work and traced that influence to his involvement with the 10,000-Year Clock. Through generative music — a compositional technique that uses a small set of rules to generate many unique outcomes — Eno created expansive compositions theoretically capable of lasting over extremely long periods of time. This is precisely the logic behind the 10,000-Year Clock’s Chime Generator.

    Questions arise, however, when the extreme potential duration of combinatorially-generated music is taken as a challenge. How does one actually perform a piece that is 1,000 years long? Let’s explore two attempts to answer this question…

    John Cage, Jem Finer, and playing music as slowly and for as long as possible: “This is How You Perform a Piece of Music 1,000 Years Long.”

    * Lily Tomlin

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    As we take the long view, we might recall that it was on this date in 1941, at Decca Studios, that Charlie Parker made his first commercial recording.  A member of  the Jay McShann Group, he played on “Hootie Blues” and “Swingmatism.”  He went on, of course, to become known for his virtuosity on the sax and for his gift as a composer; he earned the nickname “Bird” as he became a father of bebop.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:03 on 2018/04/29 Permalink
    Tags: artists, David Bowie, , , Mick Ronson, music, , Spiders from Mars, superstitions, ,   

    “Superstition is the poetry of life”*… 

     

    Charles Dickens
    Slept Facing North

    Charles Dickens (1812–1870) carried a navigational compass with him at all times and always faced north while he slept—a practice he believed improved his creativity and writing.

    Nine other personal peculiarities at “Ten Superstitions of Writers and Artists.”

    * Johann Wolfgang Goethe

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    As we knock on wood, we might spare a thought for Michael “Mick” Ronson; he died on this date in 1993.  A guitarist, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, and producer, he is best remembered as the foil to David Bowie in his breakout years, the leader of the Spiders from Mars.  But Ronson also served as arranger and occasional producer on Bowie’s work.  He went on to a successful career as a session musician recording with the like of Ian Hunter, John Mellencamp, Elton John, and Morrissey, and as a sideman in touring bands with Van Morrison and Bob Dylan (Ronson was the anchor of the Rolling Thunder Revue band).  He wrote and recored successful solo albums, and produced albums for acts including Ellen Foley, Roger McGuinn, Morrissey, and many others.

    Ziggy and the Spider

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:22 on 2018/03/31 Permalink
    Tags: codes, , , , music, musical cryptography, ,   

    “Secret codes resound. Doubts and intentions come to light.”*… 

     

    Music cryptography is a method in which the musical notes A through G are used to spell out words, abbreviations, or codes…

    Early 17th- and 18th-century mathematicians and cryptologists such as John Wilkins and Philip Thicknesse argued that music cryptography was one of the most inscrutable ways of transporting secret messages. They claimed that music was perfect camouflage, because spies would never suspect music. When played, the music would sound so much like any other composition that musically trained listeners would be easily fooled, too. Thicknesse wrote in his 1772 book A Treatise on the Art of Deciphering, and of Writing in Cypher: With an Harmonic Alphabet, “for who that examined a suspected messenger would think an old song, without words, in which perhaps the messenger’s tobacco or snuff might be put, contained a secret he was to convey?” Written letters don’t have this advantage…

    This music cipher was supposedly proposed by Michael Haydn (brother of Franz Josef Haydn). It appears in an appendix to a biography about Haydn by Werigand Rettensteiner published in 1808.

    More musical mischief at “With Musical Cryptography, Composers Can Hide Messages in Their Melodies.”

    * Wislawa Szymborska

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    As we bury the lede, we might tip the plumed birthday bonnet to Rene Descartes, the French philosopher and mathematician who thought and therefore was.  He was born on this date in 1596.

    Many contemporaries (perhaps most notably, Pascal) rejected his famous conclusion, the dualist separation of mind and body; more (Voltaire, et al.), since.  But Descartes’ emphasis on method and analysis, his disciplined integration of philosophy and physical science, his insistence on the importance of consciousness in epistemology, and perhaps most fundamentally, his the questioning of tradition and authority had a transformative– and lasting– effect on Western thought, and has earned him the “title” of Father of Modern Philosophy.

    “In order to improve the mind, we ought less to learn than to contemplate.”
    – Rene Descartes

    Frans Hals’ portrait of Descartes, c. 1649

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:41 on 2018/03/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , Bumps Blackwell, Classical Gas, Dan McLaughlin, , , Mason Williams, music, ,   

    “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”*… 

     

    Mason Williams recalls…

    CLASSICAL GAS was written in August, 1967; recorded for THE MASON WILLIAMS PHONOGRAPH RECORD album in November, 1967; released as a single in February, 1968, and became a hit six months later in the Summer of 1968. It was also one of the earliest records that used a visual to help promote it on television, which probably qualifies it as one of the earliest music videos.

    During the time that CLASSICAL GAS was a hit I was also the head writer for THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR on CBS. I had seen a film titled “GOD IS DOG SPELLED BACKWARDS” at The Encore, an off beat movie house in L.A. The film was a collection of approximately 2500 classical works of art, mostly paintings, that flashed by in three minutes. Each image lasted only two film frames, or twelve images a second! At the end of the film the viewer was pronounced “cultural” since they had just covered “3000 years of art in 3 minutes!”

    The film was the work of a UCLA film student named Dan McLaughlin. I contacted Dan and told him that I was interested in the idea of using his film as a visual for CLASSICAL GAS to air on THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR. (His original sound track had been Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.) THE COMEDY HOUR offered him the money to finance a new film he wanted to make in exchange for the right to change the original soundtrack from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony to CLASSICAL GAS and air it on the show. As a “music video” it was first shown on THE SUMMER BROTHERS SMOTHERS SHOW (Glen Campbell was the host) in the summer of 1968.

    The impact of the film on television opened the door to realizations that the viewer’s mind could absorb this intense level of visual input. It was a double shot of a hundred proof music and video that polished the history of art off in three minutes! It was also the beginning of the fast images concept now called kinestasis (a rapidly-moving montage technique set to music) that has over the years been exploited so effectively by television commercials, documentaries, etc. As a result of the response to the CLASSICAL GAS music video, in September of 1968 I wrote up a piece for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, projecting the idea that someday VJ’s would be playing hit tapes on TV, (as well as DJ’s hit records on radio), a prophesy of what was, 13 years later, to become MTV…

    [Dan McLaughlin went on to become head of UCLA’s animation program.]

    * Edgar Degas

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    As we bathe in beauty, we might spare a thought for Robert Alexander “Bumps” Blackwell; he died on this date in 1985.  A bandleader, songwriter, arranger, and record producer,  he was probably most impactful in his work overseeing the early hits of Little Richard, as well as in grooming Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Ernestine Anderson, Lloyd Price, Sam Cooke, Herb Alpert, Larry Williams, and Sly and the Family Stone at the starts of their recording careers.

    Blackwell, seated, with Rich Hall (of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals) and Little Richard

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:02 on 2018/01/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Joe Frank, Lead Belly, music, ,   

    “I don’t know what this is, but I can’t stop listening”*… 

     

    Joe Frank passed away last Monday.  A purveyor of humorous, often surreal, radio monologues and dramas, he began his career in 1977 on WBAI in New York, then moved in 1978 to National Public Radio. producing 18 award-winning dramas for NPR Playhouse (while serving as co-anchor of Weekend Edition).  In 1986 he moved to KCRW in Santa Monica, where he produced a weekly hour-long radio program, Joe Frank: Work In Progress, until 2002 He also wrote stage plays and short stories, and saw several of his radio works used as the bases of films and television programs.

    Beloved by a loyal audience, he was never widely known.  Still, his influence has touched mass audiences:  Ira Glass (one of whose first jobs was as a production assistant for Frank) credits Frank as his greatest inspiration for This American Life; TAL contributor David Sedaris modeled his work in material measure on Frank; Prairie Home Companion drew on Frank’s approach; and filmmakers including Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Mann, David Fincher, Ivan Reitman, and Martin Scorsese have worked from stories from Joe Frank’s radio shows.

    Hear his extraordinary work on JoeFrank.com (free registration), Last.FM, and Soundcloud, among other repositoroes.

    * Ira Glass, recounting his first experience of Joe Frank

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    As we lend an ear, we might send tuneful birthday greetings to Huddie William Ledbetter; he was born on this date in 1888.  Better known by his stage name “Lead Belly,” he was  folk and blues musician known for his distinctive vocals, virtuosity on the twelve-string guitar (though he also played the piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, and “windjammer” [diatonic accordion]), and the blues standards he wrote and introduced– covered over the years by acts including Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Johnny Rivers (“Midnight Special”), Delaney Davidson, Tom Russell, Lonnie Donegan, Bryan Ferry (“Goodnight, Irene”), the Beach Boys (“Cotton Fields”), Creedence Clearwater Revival (“Midnight Special”, “Cotton Fields”), Elvis Presley, ABBA, Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, the Animals, Jay Farrar, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Dr. John, Ry Cooder, Davy Graham, Maria Muldaur, Rory Block, Grateful Dead, Gene Autry, Odetta, Mungo Jerry, Paul King, Van Morrison, Michelle Shocked, Tom Waits (“Goodnight, Irene”), Scott H. Biram, Rod Stewart, Ernest Tubb, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Spiderbait (“Black Betty”), Blind Willies (“In the Pines”), the White Stripes (“Boll Weevil”), the Fall, Hole, Smog, Old Crow Medicine Show, Meat Loaf, Ministry, Raffi, Rasputina, Rory Gallagher (“Out on the Western Plains”), the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Deer Tick, Hugh Laurie, X, Bill Frisell, Koerner, Ray & Glover, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Meat Puppets, Mark Lanegan, WZRD (“Where Did You Sleep Last Night”), Keith Richards, Phil Lee (“I Got Stripes”), and Aerosmith (“Line ‘Em”)…

    Lead Belly. photo by Alan Lomax

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:28 on 2018/01/03 Permalink
    Tags: ancient music, banned by the BBC, , , music, musicology, The Lulu Show,   

    “Where words leave off, music begins”*… 

     

    We are often immersed in what the ancient world looked like when we visit a museum or an archaeological site. However, the vibrant soundscapes heard at festivals, funerals, courtly feasts, theatrical performances, gladiatorial shows or just while shopping in the ancient world are important to reconstructing the past. A number of ancient historians are hard at work to bring the music of antiquity back to life for the enjoyment of the modern world…

    Read about– and hear– the results of their efforts at: “Five Ways To Listen To The Music Of The Ancient World Today.”

    * Heinrich Heine

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    As we commune with our ancestors, we might recall that it was on the is night in 1969 that Jimi Hendrix appeared on the BBC’s The Lulu Show.  He had been booked to perform two songs, “Voodoo Child,” which he and the Experience did in its entirety. Then, he stopped midway through the performance his new single “Hey Joe,”  announcing, “We’d like to stop playing this rubbish and dedicate this song to The Cream.”  The Experience then launched into a version of “Sunshine Of Your Love” as a tribute to the group who had split a few days earlier. Hendrix proceeded to continuing jamming, running over their allocated time slot on the live show, and preventing the show’s host, the pop singer Lulu, from closing the show properly… for which Hendrix was banned from the BBC.  (See the performance here; read about Elvis Costello’s similar experience on Saturday Night Live here.)

    Jimi and the boys on The Lulu Show

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:56 on 2017/12/08 Permalink
    Tags: accordion, , Christmas carol, christmas music, , music, polka, , , Will Glahé   

    “I am the Ghost of Christmas Present”*… 

     

    The 13 most popular Christmas songs on Spotify, a music-streaming service, have amassed 1bn plays between them. The most popular of them, “All I Want for Christmas Is You”, written in 15 minutes and recorded by Mariah Carey in 1994, accounts for 210m of those plays. It has earned over $60m in royalties since its release.

    Despite its ubiquity during December, the appeal of festive music varies significantly by geography. Spotify provided The Economist with data for Christmas listening across 35 countries, and for every American state, on a day-by-day basis for the two months leading up to Christmas Day 2016. The data demonstrate that music lovers in Sweden and Norway listen to festive tunes most frequently. One in every six songs they streamed on Spotify during December last year received this classification (the list includes some 1,500 Christmas songs performed in English and local languages). By contrast, during the same period in Brazil—a country with a comparable proportion of Christians—just one song in 150 was Christmas-themed. Listening habits in American states also vary, though to a smaller degree: in New Hampshire Christmas songs accounted for one in nine streams, whereas in Nevada, the state where such tunes are least common, it was one in 20…

    Why?  Find out at “The music industry should be dreaming of a white Christmas.”

    * Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

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    As we deck the halls, we might recall that it was on this date in 1957 that 55-year-old German accordionist Will Glahé outsold many established Rock And Roll artists when his “Liechtensteiner Polka” reaches #19 on the Billboard Pop chart. Glahé’s first success in America had come in June, 1939 when his rendition of “Beer Barrel Polka” hit the top of the US Hit Parade, selling over a million copies. (Your correspondent has no explanatory link for this one…)

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