While cleaning house a few days ago, I unearthed the first piece of music I ever wrote. It’s a piano rag, written half a lifetime ago for the first music theory class I was able to fit into my schedule.1 I was curious to see how it sounded after all these years. I could barely play it when I wrote it, and I’m way out of practice these days, so I transcribed it into Logic and let the computer play it.
It’s not as bad as I feared, but not as good as I hoped. Don’t look for the score on my sheet music page. I didn’t really know what I was doing then2, and it shows. The title is “Hairy Toes.” Please don’t ask me to explain that, or what I had in mind in the penultimate section.
Update: Uploaded a recording with a different virtual piano.
A long time ago, back before the last ice age, I came across a short piece called something like “In Space with Runyon Jones” in a collection of science fiction stories. It was a series of vignettes in which the young Jones encounters a variety of aliens while traveling in spaceships, which the editor of the anthology had gleaned from a novel by Norman Corwin. I was curious to read the rest of the book, but it was long out of print by then, and has never been reprinted. I never found it in any library or used book store.
A few years ago, I remembered the story and thought that perhaps it might be possible to locate a copy of the book online. While searching, I found that Corwin’s story had first been a radio play, “Odyssey of Runyon Jones,” broadcast in 1941. It’s available here. Once you accustom your ears to the low-fidelity sound, it’s entertaining listening. Runyon’s dog Pootzy has been hit by a car and killed, and Runyon wants him back. He braves bureaucracy, meets Father Time and Mother Nature, and eventually finds his way to Curgatory and a trick ending.
Ten years later, Corwin turned the radio play into the novel Dog in the Sky, of which I eventually located an affordable copy. In addition to expanding the episodes in the play, he introduced a sub-plot involving a Mr. B.L.Z. Bubb, a bureaucrat very interested in Runyon’s quest, and adds details of Runyon’s adventures as he travels from planet to planet. The Bubb business is never very interesting and it eventually fizzles out, but the aliens Runyon meets are what caught my attention in the excerpts I read years ago, and are what might make the book worth reprinting someday. There are quite a variety of them, including a perfume salesman, a lonely robot, a very important businessman from Venus, and a spooky cat/woman. And a certain 62Kru:
62Kru returned to his monologue as though nothing had happened. “Love is science. Science is love. That is all the protons and isotopes know, and all they need to know. The beta ray hankers for the gamma, both are enamored of the delta, and all in turn adore the lambda.
You see, friend, we Hankerites deplore the fact that the galaxies are rushing away from each other. This is because of a misunderstanding which occurred some billions of years ago. We aim to rectify, restore and reunite the estranged universe, to bind all together under the harmonious love of the true Hruh, whose throne is everywhere and anywhere. Blasphemers and atheists have tried to prove that Hruh is really nothing but but the true Hankerite is unshakable in his faith, resolute in his virtue, confident in the supremacy and inviolability of love, and we have already killed several million disbelievers to prove this.
Something else I stumbled across at Archive.org: the A.M. Yankovic/W. Carlos version of “Peter and the Wolf.” It’s not the best example of either’s work, but it has its moments. The recording is probably still under copyright, so it may disappear from the site at any moment.
(My favorite version is the that by the Royal Ballet School, with Anthony Dowell as narrator and Grandfather. It starts here.)
So, Frank Zappa’s kids are thinking of presenting holograms of him in concert, just like Hatsune Miku? Holograms of Miku are fine, since she’s computer-generated anyway, but re-animating Frank seems ghoulish to me. I doubt that he’ll ever dance as well as Miku, either, no matter how skillfully his hologram is programmed.
This past weekend was the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield. Never believe anything the weatherman says. He promised clear skies and highs in the lower 90°s. Yeah, right. Here’s what I heard at Stage One Saturday afternoon, when The Outside Track were scheduled to perform:
I decided not to bring the real camera along, which turned out to be a good call, given the weather. So, no pictures this year. I did bring my little sound recorder. Here’s a bit of what goes on all night long at Carp Camp. The tunes are “Planxty Fanny Po[w]er,” featuring Amanda Roberts, this year’s hammered dulcimer winner, and “Liberty,” with an unconventional bluegrass instrument toward the end. The sound is mediocre and the recorder cut the second tune short (grr), but it should give you some idea of what it’s like there.
In a week or two, there should be videos with better sound quality on YouTube and elsewhere.
It occurred to me that the ideal instrument for playing “minimalist”1 music like Terry Riley’s “In C” would be wind chimes. I spent a few lunch hours recently compiling my own set of wind chime music. It uses five instances of the AAS Chromaphone, covering five octaves. See what you make of it.
Update: Uploaded a slightly tweaked and, I hope, much better-sounding recording. What sounds good on headphones at the office sometimes sounds pretty awful on the speakers at home.
Update II: Let’s drive this into the ground. Here’s a similar piece for heavily corroded wind chimes, featuring three instances of u-he’s ACE and too much percussion. (You might want to turn the volume down.)
I have a notion for one more exercise along these lines, and then it will be back to real music.
When Tatsuya Yoshida isn’t compiling medleys, he plays a Japanese version of zeuhl. Here’s a concert by Koenji Hyakkei, one of his many projects.
I’ve become quite fond of songwriter and composer 伊藤真澄, a.k.a. Masumi Itou (or Ito, Itoh or Itō), though her singing voice does take some getting used to. Tunes she’s written include the ending themes for Flip Flappers1 and Humanity Has Declined and the openings to Magical Nyan Nyan Taruto2 and Azumanga Daioh. A quick search on YouTube will turn up many more. I recently found some of her recordings on Amazon.jp. Her album Harmonies of Heaven is mostly of her own compositions, but she does include the traditional tune “故郷の空,” above. It sounds oddly familiar.
I got curious about how affordable a koto would be, should I ever make enough room in my place to keep one and find time to practice. Not very, it turns out; prices range from $1,250 to $7,000 (sale price) at one source.
However, if you cross over to the Asian mainland, you can find similar instruments at more affordable prices. Chinese guzhengs start at $380. Here’s a Vocaloid tune played on a guzheng.1
Here’s something to bring to the next jam session:
Need an orchestra, but can’t afford to pay for pro-quality sample sets, let alone the real thing? Here’s a useful freebie. (If the complete instrument crashes your DAW, download just the sections you need. I’ve found the percussion to be particularly handy.)
What were the big hits in past decades around the world? You can get an idea with Radiooooo.
Last week we had possibly the most annoying tune in the history of music. Now here’s a candidate for the dullest piece of music ever recorded. It’s essentially just a single five-note chord, held for two minutes. (There’s a bit more to it than that, but not much more.) See what you make of it.
Advisory: Survivors of the Society for Creative Anachronism might find this post traumatic.
Here is a set of variations on possibly the most annoying tune ever notated, “Nonesuch,” from John Playford’s 1651 The English Dancing Master. It’s arranged here for virtual guitar, bass and drums.1. For the morbidly curious, the guitar is the AAS Strum GS-2 and the bass the String Studio VS-2. The drums are Logic’s Ultrabeat, augmented with percussion from the VSCO2 orchestra. As always, I’m not completely happy with this, but I want to move on to fresh disasters.
(Right-click on the tune title to download the .mp3.)
I recently found a recording of the music from Girls und Panzer by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. The OST to the anime in its various forms was probably generated in a digital audio workstation with sample libraries. It’s quite listenable, but virtual orchestras can’t compare to well-recorded real instruments played by real, living musicians. The bass drum alone makes the upgrade worthwhile, particularly if you have powerful speakers or good headphones.1 The only disappointment with the TSO CDs is that they’re missing “Yuki no Shingun.” 2
Incidentally, I ordered the CDs from Amazon.co.jp on a Sunday, and they arrived the following Tuesday. If you want the quickest delivery from Amazon, forget Amazon Prime. Order overseas.
Or did the second just sound a little flatter than the first?
Even if there is a real basis to the paranoid theories — extremely unlikely; the rise of the 440 standard is so complicated that positing a vast international conspiracy is inadequate to explain it — the precise frequency of the “A” in a scale matters far less than the qualities of the intervals between the notes of the scale.
The preset used for the two recordings above does not specify the temperament, which implies that it is equal-tempered. Other presets offer different tuning systems. Here is the sonata again, this time at A = 415, using an unspecified “well tempered” tuning:
Dan Hicks‘ departure from this world was lost in the lingering foofaraw over David Bowie’s.1 It’s a shame, because Hicks was to me the more enjoyable artist and much more fun to listen to. Would Bowie ever have written a tune like “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?”
Back in ancient times, when there was occasionally something worth listening to on the radio, I heard this:
That’s Sandy Denny on vocals, Richard Thompson on lead guitar, and Dave Swarbrick on fiddle. Forget “Free Bird;” this is how to do an up-tempo extended epilogue. As soon as I could afford to, I bought Liege and Lief, the album this recording originally appeared on, and then all the rest of Fairport’s available albums. L&L is the most listened-to, most loaned-out and most worn-out record in my vast collection. I eventually replaced it with a new CD because the vinyl was becoming unplayable.
Swarbrick died once, in 1999. From Wikipedia:
For many years Swarbrick suffered steadily worsening health because of emphysema. There was considerable embarrassment for The Daily Telegraph newspaper when in April 1999 it published a premature obituary for Swarbrick after he was admitted to hospital with a chest infection. He is reported to have commented, “It’s not the first time I’ve died in Coventry.”
He died again in June, this time permanently.
I couldn’t find this on YouTube, so here is the “Mason’s Apron” medley by the “Full House” line-up, digitized from ancient vinyl. The musicians are Swarbrick, Thompson, Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg and Dave Mattacks.
A fiddler/mandolinist friend of mine recently injured his left wrist and finds it painful to fret notes normally. However, he can still play harmonics. See if you can pick out “Whiskey before Breakfast.” Also, wait until after lunch before fetching the whiskey bottle.
A young friend of mine named Roger had a nice little racket going. He’d enter the old time fiddle competition at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas, take second or third place, and go home with a shiny new fiddle. This year he goofed and took first. It will be five years before he can enter the fiddle competition again.1 Perhaps he’ll start collecting mandolins.
One of the many shows I don’t plan to watch this fall is ClassicaLoid. ANN describes it thus:
The story follows high school students Kanae and Sōsuke, who live in a provincial town that is trying to revitalize itself with music. One day, suddenly “Classicaloid” versions of Beethoven and Mozart appear in front of Kanae and Sōsuke. When the suspicious-looking Classicaloids play music they call “mujik,” it has a strange power: stars start to fall, and giant robots appear. Now every day is tumultuous. Eventually, more Classicaloids start to appear such as Bach, Chopin, and Schubert. What is the great power that the Classicaloids have? Are they friends or foe to humanity?
The show’s music will include pop, rock, techno, and other arrangements of famous classical works, arranged by well-known Japanese musicians. The official website states that the show will also feature “battles, slapstick comedy, heartwarming stories, and light love(?).”
It sounds dumb, and while you are welcome to do what you like with Liszt and Tchaikowsky, I don’t appreciate anyone monkeying around with Chopin.
One of the composers victimized is a certain Bądarzewska. I’d never heard of this person, so I did a little searching and discovered that the composer is presumably Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska. She wrote a piano piece called “The Maiden’s Prayer.” From Wikipedia:
Percy Scholes, writes in The Oxford Companion to Music (9th edition, reprinted 1967) rather unkindly of Bądarzewska: “Born in Warsaw in 1838 [sic] and died there in 1861, aged twenty-three [sic]. In this brief lifetime she accomplished, perhaps, more than any composer who ever lived, for she provided the piano of absolutely every tasteless sentimental person in the so-called civilised world with a piece of music which that person, however unaccomplished in a dull technical sense, could play. It is probable that if the market stalls and back-street music shops of Britain were to be searched The Maiden’s Prayer would be found to be still selling, and as for the Empire at large, Messrs. Allen of Melbourne reported in 1924, sixty years after the death of the composer, that their house alone was still disposing of 10,000 copies a year.”
The composition is a short piano piece for intermediate pianists. Some have liked it for its charming and romantic melody, and others have described it as “sentimental salon tosh”. The pianist and academic Arthur Loesser described it as a “dowdy product of ineptitude.”
You can listen to the piece here, and Bob Wills’ version here.
The only current show that I’m following is Mob Psycho 100. Though less overtly comic than One Punch Man, it has much of the same sensibility, with a similar contrast of naiveté and cynicism, and with a similar satirical edge.
I gave up on Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress half-way through the first episode. Pixy stuck it out and reports that it is
Completely implausible. These people are so dumb the zombies would starve to death.
At one point in Summer Wars (recommended), a list of people who solved a puzzle in the movie is displayed. While rewatching the movie recently, I spotted a familiar name. You might find other names of interest, variously misspelled.