Musical Longitudes And Latitudes

Music has geography–
located in a place,
rooted in a set of coordinates,
mappable onto interpretive grids.

Like a spinning globe
music’s time moves from left to right,
it’s melodies fall from high to low,
it’s bass and treble create near and far.
Music has depth–it’s 4D.

Music also has inner coordinates.
Imagine smashing that globe
into a thousand small shards
that scatter around a room.
Each shard is a set of instructions
for a style, a tradition, a movement.

Take a small shard
and zoom in on its instructions–
binary script that describes
how this sound
will evolve into that,
one rule at a time
built upon or broken,
while musicians proceed
as if they’re the ones doing the thinking.

Curating The Week: On Field Recording, Insect Communication, And A Conversation With Matthew Dear And Jad Abumrad


1. An article about field recording.

“Broadly, field recording can be summarised as a diverse set of practices concerned with recording sound from atmospheric, hydrophonic, geophonic, electro-magnetic and other sources. It is a sprawling pursuit, but resolves toward an interest in creating and transmitting an impression of audition in time. As field recording, in its contemporary phase, has come to be acknowledged more widely, there has been a rising tide of publications from artists scattered across the globe. These artists are primarily investigating the potentials of environments, acoustic phenomena and all manner of other auditory situations in which they find themselves.”

2. An article about sound and insect communication.

“One of the things that makes them cool,” says Symes, “is that they have really simple sensory systems — yet they parse this really complex world.”

3. A thoughtful and brief documentary about the work of Matthew Dear and Jad Abumrad.

Things That Shake, Rattle, And Roll

Curating The Week: On Editing, Sound And Brain Evolution, And Classical Music As Tonic


1. Another essential article by John McPhee about editing and cutting material.

“The creativity lies in what you choose to write about, how you go about doing it, the arrangement through which you present things, the skill and the touch with which you describe people and succeed in developing them as characters, the rhythms of your prose, the integrity of the composition, the anatomy of the piece (does it get up and walk around on its own?), the extent to which you see and tell the story that exists in your material, and so forth. Creative nonfiction is not making something up but making the most of what you have.”

2. An article about how sound has shaped the evolution of the human brain.

“The brain is really a wet, sloppy drum machine,” Horowitz says. “It’s desperately seeking rhythms. Not only rhythm, but patterns in pitch too, that have a mathematical regularity that captures the brain’s attention.”

3. An article about how classical music can be a tonic for an increasingly wired society.

“A painting, like a symphony, has design and composition. But the structure of a painting hits you at once; the structure of a symphony unfolds over time: You must give yourself over to it.”

Where Are Are The Points At Which One Music Becomes Another?

It’s a topic I’ve thought about
whenever I hear a new sound
that disregards the old
and rushes headlong
into uncharted waters.

Water is the appropriate metaphor
for music’s fluidity, fungibility,
and fantastic flow quality
as it moves from being this,
to becoming that.

Do you remember
those old hip hop beats,
marking two and four
with gold chain emphasis,
sawed off and square at the corners?
How did they become
the sinuous, slithering, stuttering
bass music syntax of today?
When did their sharp edges become round, more pixellated?

Pixellate that last thought:
Where are the points
when one rhythm becomes another?
Where a two becomes a three or a four,
when an eighth note becomes a dotted,
or a chattering background
becomes the fore?

As music moves from being this
to becoming that,
I rush headlong into the new sound
to hear where we’re going next.

Curating The Week: On Musical Chills, Deep Listening, And Brian Eno


1. An article about why and how music gives us chills.

“…the chemical that’s released during musical chills, dopamine, is one that is also acted on by things like cocaine or amphetamine or other intensely pleasurable experiences.”

2. An article about deep listening–not in a musical context but certainly applicable to one.

“Avoid preconceived notions, assumptions, judgments. If you imagine you know what someone’s going to say, you might not listen. Deep listening involves an openness to ideas, to others, and a willingness to suspend judgment.”

3. A video interview with Brian Eno.

“I use this word ‘surrender’ quite a lot and it doesn’t immediately have the right connotation, but there’s not another word for it. What I mean by surrender is a sort of active choice not to take control. So it’s an active choice to be part of the flow of something…For me the perfect analogy is surfing—which I don’t do by the way but I have watched with some interest. I don’t do anything really, I just watch documentaries about it and then make theories…What you see when you watch someone surfing is they take control momentarily—situate themselves on a wave—then surrender…We tend to dignify the control side of the spectrum more than the surrender phase.”

How Pop Music Boxed Itself In

It began innocently enough–
somewhere along the road
of blues and R&B,
when Little Richard’s piano hands
pushed drummer Palmer
to split the beat into two instead of three, with backbeats on two and four.

Then the squareness of this sound
–the duple, the beat as a four-sided box–
caught on,
moving rock further from its blues body.

Rhythm took a back seat
on harmony’s ride,
taking in the melodic sights
but still wanting to drive.

It got its chance
to take the wheel of funk,
switching accentual gears
to ride over its syncopated bumps,
and then coast on dance music’s
four on the floor open road.

But a feel was gone,
the fluidity of a beat divided into three
having fled into the open arms of jazz,
while the squareness, the duple beat,
wondered why so much pop music
now sounded the same.

Curating The Week: Crafting A Pop Hit, Laraaji, And New York Hardcore Music


1. An article and a mini documentary about how two DJ-producers and a famous singer collaborated to create a pop hit.

“What you want is an earworm that you can literally listen to an hour or two in a row and not get bored of it.”

2. An interview with the musician Laraaji.

“My music began to reflect an inner sense of reality that I contacted through meditation, an inner sense of constant stillness, quiet, harmony, peace and serenity, and universal oneness. These themes found their way into my musical expression, along with, still I did jazz and bop and jam-alongs when I lived in Park Slope, New York. Coffee house jams, loft music jams. We’d go through the whole gamut of music, but my electric zither at that time was surfacing and the music that I offered into all these experiences was usually this flowing ambient textural continual kind of atmospherical space music. That was around the late ’70s.”

3. An article on the New York hardcore music scene.

“From the beginning, one of the defining oddities of NYHC was young punk kids becoming devotees of Hare Krishna. With its link to George Harrison and psychedelia and its connotations of meditative transcendence, Hare Krishna was almost the total opposite of hardcore’s crudeness and insistent negativity.”

On The Musicological Juncture

Words are not going to get us there,
are they?
Words won’t bring us
to music’s promised land.
They weren’t given the right directions,
the right coordinates for finding
where exactly music resides.
Words reach,
but unlike music,
they don’t touch.

The “musicological juncture”
was Charles Seeger’s phrase,
coined long ago to describe
the situation we
–musicologists all of us–
place ourselves in
when we talk about music.

“Gaps found in our speech thinking
about music” he said at one point,
“may be suspected of being areas
of music thinking.”

We’re still in that gap–in that space
between thinking about music
and music thinking.
“Interpret music’s mediations!”
says anthropology,
“Look to the brain!”
says neuroscience,
“And don’t forget the notes themselves!”
urges music theory.

We reach to fill the interpretive space,
all the while
musicians keep playing,
talking another talk among themselves,
using sounds, not words
to craft their touch.