Category Archives: Entertainment

Ancient Greek music: now we finally know what it sounded like



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Wikimedia Commons

Armand D’Angour, University of Oxford

In 1932, the musicologist Wilfrid Perrett reported to an audience at the Royal Musical Association in London the words of an unnamed professor of Greek with musical leanings: “Nobody has ever made head or tail of ancient Greek music, and nobody ever will. That way madness lies.”

Roman mosaic with aulos player.
Wikimedia Commons

Indeed, ancient Greek music has long posed a maddening enigma. Yet music was ubiquitous in classical Greece, with most of the poetry from around 750BC to 350BC – the songs of Homer, Sappho, and others – composed and performed as sung music, sometimes accompanied by dance. Literary texts provide abundant and highly specific details about the notes, scales, effects, and instruments used. The lyre was a common feature, along with the popular aulos, two double-reed pipes played simultaneously by a single performer so as to sound like two powerful oboes played in concert.

Despite this wealth of information, the sense and sound of ancient Greek music has proved incredibly elusive. This is because the terms and notions found in ancient sources – mode, enharmonic, diesis, and so on – are complicated and unfamiliar. And while notated music exists and can be reliably interpreted, it is scarce and fragmentary. What could be reconstructed in practice has often sounded quite strange and unappealing – so ancient Greek music had by many been deemed a lost art.

An older reconstruction of ancient Greek music.

But recent developments have excitingly overturned this gloomy assessment. A project to investigate ancient Greek music that I have been working on since 2013 has generated stunning insights into how ancient Greeks made music. My research has even led to its performance – and hopefully, in the future, we’ll see many more such reconstructions.

New approaches

The situation has changed largely because over the past few years some very well preserved auloi have been reconstructed by expert technicians such as Robin Howell and researchers associated with the European Music Archaeology Project. Played by highly skilled pipers such as Barnaby Brown and Callum Armstrong, they provide a faithful guide to the pitch range of ancient music, as well as to the instruments’ own pitches, timbres, and tunings.

Central to ancient song was its rhythms, and the rhythms of ancient Greek music can be derived from the metres of the poetry. These were based strictly on the durations of syllables of words, which create patterns of long and short elements. While there are no tempo indications for ancient songs, it is often clear whether a metre should be sung fast or slow (until the invention of mechanical chronometers, tempo was in any case not fixed, and was bound to vary between performances). Setting an appropriate tempo is essential if music is to sound right.

Apollo plays the lyre.
Wikimedia Commons

What about the tunes – the melody and harmony? This is what most people mean when they claim that ancient Greek “music” is lost. Thousands of words about the theory of melody and harmony survive in the writings of ancient authors such as Plato, Aristotle, Aristoxenus, Ptolemy, and Aristides Quintilianus; and a few fragmentary scores with ancient musical notation first came to light in Florence in the late 16th century. But this evidence for actual music gave no real sense of the melodic and harmonic riches that we learn of from literary sources.

More documents with ancient notation on papyrus or stone have intermittently come to light since 1581, and now around 60 fragments exist. Carefully compiled, transcribed, and interpreted by scholars such as Martin West and Egert Pöhlmann, they give us a better chance of understanding how the music sounded.

Ancient Greek music performed

The earliest substantial musical document, found in 1892, preserves part of a chorus from the Athenian tragedian Euripides’ Orestes of 408BC. It has long posed problems for interpretation, mainly owing to its use of quarter-tone intervals, which have seemed to suggest an alien melodic sensibility. Western music operates with whole tones and semitones; any smaller interval sounds to our ears as if a note is being played or sung out of tune.

Musical fragment from Orestes by Euripides.
Wikimedia Commons

But my analyses of the Orestes fragment, published earlier this year, led to striking insights. First, I demonstrated that elements of the score clearly indicate word-painting – the imitation of the meaning of words by the shape of the melodic line. We find a falling cadence set to the word “lament”, and a large upward interval leap accompanying the word “leaps up”.

Second, I showed that if the quarter-tones functioned as “passing-notes”, the composition was in fact tonal (focused on a pitch to which the tune regularly reverts). This should not be very surprising, as such tonality exists in all the documents of ancient music from later centuries, including the large-scale Delphic Paeans preserved on stone.

With these premises in view, in 2016 I reconstructed the music of the Orestes papyrus for choral realisation with aulos accompaniment, setting a brisk tempo as indicated by the metre and the content of the chorus’s words. This Orestes chorus was performed by choir and aulos-player at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, in July 2017, together with other reconstructed ancient scores.

It remains for me to realise, in the next few years, the other few dozen ancient scores that exist, many extremely fragmentary, and to stage a complete ancient drama with historically informed music in an ancient theatre such as that of Epidaurus.

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The Conversation

Meanwhile, an exciting conclusion may be drawn. The Western tradition of classical music is often said to begin with the Gregorian plainsong of the 9th century AD. But the reconstruction and performance of Greek music has demonstrated that ancient Greek music should be recognised as the root of the European musical tradition.

Armand D’Angour, Associate Professor in Classics, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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From child stars to lost theatres: capturing our ephemeral history of live performance


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Ivy Emms with the man she married, Jack Bent, on a music catalogue for the song Just a Ray of Sunlight. After performing patriotic songs as a child in popular pantomimes, Emms later worked as a choreographer at Melbourne’s Tivoli Theatre.
NLA

Gillian Arrighi, University of Newcastle

In 1825, Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld watched an Aboriginal Dance of Welcome at Newcastle’s East End Settlement. From the AusStage database – the research gateway to crucial information about live performance in Australia – we can learn it was held “in consequence of our coming among them”.

The papers and reminiscences (1824-1859) of Threlkeld, who trained with the evangelical London Missionary Society, were published in 1979 and can be accessed for further research. The singing and dancing he described may have looked like the Corroboree around a campfire painted by the convict artist Joseph Lycett in the Newcastle region circa 1817.

Corroboree around a campfire by Joseph Lycett.
NLA

A simple search of the database using the term “corroboree” reveals hundreds of records of corroborees across the continent between 1816 and 1927, the earliest being 300 men and women singing and dancing at Main Beach opposite George Rocks in Tasmania. The early settler who witnessed this event also recorded the name of one of the male performers: Tolobunganah.

A map of corroborees reported around Australia from Ausstage. The corroborees that are mapped are Aboriginal initiated performances drawing from their own traditions of entertainment.
Ausstage

The first theatre production to be staged by white settlers in Australia appears in the database as well — the Irish playwright George Farquhar’s 1706 play, The Recruiting Officer.

Portrait of Arthur Phillip by Francis Wheatley 1786: Phillip watched Australia’s first play staged by white settlers.
Wikimedia Commons

A scan of this entry reveals convicts performed it in Sydney in 1789 “in a mud-wall hut in honour of the birthday of King George III”, and gives the complete cast list. Captains Arthur Phillip and Watkin Tench were noted as in the audience.

From its beginnings 18 years ago, AusStage is now recognised globally as the “gold standard” for open access records of live performance. Based at Flinders University, AusStage is the result of a pioneering collective research effort between 18 universities and industry partners. In May this year, the 100,000th record of live performance in Australia was added to it.

The database, which dates from 1789 to the present day, acknowledges the significance of professional and amateur performance for Australia’s performing arts ecology. Live performances in regional towns and rural locations are of equal importance to those in major cities; even animal and android performers are recorded.

Down the rabbit hole

Delving deeper into our theatre history is made possible through AusStage’s links to records on books and articles held in other collections and domains. Entering the database is like going down the proverbial rabbit hole. It has the capacity to inform complex journeys of discovery on Australian theatre history, the production and consumption of commercial and non-commercial performance, and audience analysis. It also enables researchers to track artists’ national and international careers.

Music catalogue featuring a young Ivy Emms.
NLA

For example, my current research on child actors between 1880-1920 is significantly helped by AusStage. Ivy Emms (1905-1949) was a hard working juvenile singer and dancer in regional Victoria during World War I. A search of the database reveals that 30 years after she performed patriotic songs in popular pantomimes, she was working as a choreographer at Melbourne’s Tivoli Theatre. (An obituary from The Argus states that she died after a brief illness.) AusStage makes visualisation of her creative relationships possible.

As of July 11, AusStage held records on 102,643 performance events, 142,285 contributors, 15,536 organisations, 17,170 works, 9,991 venues and 64,088 resources. During the period from 1st January 2018 to 11th July access to it has been from 138 different countries with 78% of the users in Australia.

Visualising theatres

AusStage’s goal is to preserve and retrieve Australia’s performing arts heritage, and make it freely available through digital means. Currently, research teams from 12 Australian Universities are developing visualisations of some of Australia’s historically significant theatre venues.

This floor plan of Newcastle’s Victoria Theatre is just one element contributing to a digital recreation and 3D experience of the theatre and its colourful neo-Grecian interiors during its first year of productions, 1891-92. The Victoria is the oldest standing theatre in New South Wales.

Remodelled in the 1920s when it was primarily a Variety theatre, the installation of cinema projection technology in the 1920s saw the Victoria host live performance and cinema for many decades more. Finally closed in 1999 and currently derelict, the theatre’s new owners, Century Venues, reportedly have plans to re-open it.

Newcastle’s Victoria Theatre photographed in 2007.
Wikimedia Commons

AusStage is also facilitating research on historical theatres, using virtual technology. Several projects are building VR versions of Australian theatre venues that no longer exist. From these models, we can understand how performance in them operated.

Ian Maxwell of the University of Sydney is looking at two lost theatres of Sydney. The Royal Victoria Theatre on Pitt St, which opened in 1838 with a production of Othello, was a grand, state of the art building accommodating 1900 spectators.

The Paris Theatre, with a façade designed by Walter Burley Griffin, was located on Whitlam Square. In 1979 the Paris was home to the Paris Theatre Company, the short-lived experimental precursor to the Sydney Theatre Company under the direction of Jim Sharman and Rex Cramphorn. The Royal Victoria burnt down in 1880, while the Paris was demolished in 1981 to make way for a residential high-rise.

These are just several of the dozens of projects that have been, or are, facilitated by the database. “Capturing lightning in a bottle” is the phrase sometimes used to describe what AusStage does. It sums up the fragility and excitement of the task.

The ConversationThe performing arts are ephemeral events, physically passing from the world once they cease to be presented to audiences. AusStage ensures they do not pass from our historical memory.

Gillian Arrighi, Senior Lecturer in Creative and Performing Arts, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


From the First Fleet to Changi, Australia’s pianos have a long history



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The first piano arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788.
Shutterstock

Scott Davie, University of Sydney

Review: A Coveted Possession: The Rise and Fall of the Piano in Australia by Michael Atherton


In his recent book, A Coveted Possession, Michael Atherton traces the history of the piano in Australia. The book’s cover seems almost intent on giving the story away, informing us that its pages chart the instrument’s “rise and fall”.

As Atherton, an emeritus professor from Western Sydney University, explains, the story of the piano in Australia begins with the First Fleet, namely a small instrument brought from England on the Sirius in 1788, by George Worgan. A short preliminary chapter sets out the prior development of the instrument, from the “plucked” action of the older harpsichord to the felt-covered hammers used in later pianos. This information will be useful for readers with little background knowledge.

Logo used on the casting of a Wertheim upright piano, one of the Australian piano brands.
Nick Carson/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Yet, as the author reminds us, the piano has been more than a musical instrument or a finely crafted piece of furniture; he refers to it as “a machine that conveyed socially constructed meanings”. In this regard, the book is rich in subtext. Two dominant undercurrents emerge: that the possession of a piano (and the skill to play it) signified status; and that the Australian “cultural cringe” led to preferences for foreign-made instruments.




Read more:
Decoding the music masterpieces: Brahms’s Piano Quartet in G minor


The first piano believed to have been built in Australia dated from 1834 and was constructed by an English emigrant named John Benham. As Atherton tells us, native timbers proved highly adaptable to piano manufacture, both in terms of their outer casework and, more importantly, the soundboard within.

An example of a Benham piano is housed in the archives of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. It’s one of many instruments stored in the shed-like building next to the main exhibition spaces, which are rarely viewed by anybody, let alone heard. If ever there was a counter-argument for keeping the Powerhouse where it is and opening satellite venues such as at Parramatta so as to allow for the greater display of items, surely this is one.

Atherton provides a brief but concise history of the early builders of pianos in Australia, before moving to the more substantial manufacturers, Jabez Carnegie, Octavius Beale and Hugo Wertheim. For a period, it was a burgeoning and profitable business, complementing the homegrown production and sale of printed music, and the promotion of local virtuoso performers, such as Percy Grainger.

Australian composer Percy Grainger performs Londonderry Air.

Yet lasting success proved elusive. As a pianist, I have promoted modern Australian pianos in concerts and recordings, and, sadly, Atherton’s pages detailing the decline of Beale’s factory in Sydney’s Annandale and Wertheim’s in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond were almost predictable. Those who profited from importing instruments from overseas (sometimes with quite inferior products) argued powerfully to remove tariffs and, aligned with the interruption of the second world war, “market forces” ultimately brought about the industry’s demise.




Read more:
Decoding the Music Masterpieces: Debussy’s Clair de Lune


Changes in entertainment technologies – such as the development of the radio and the gramophone – also played their part in that process. But despite the decline in the popularity of the “goanna” (rhyming slang for the instrument), Atherton is highly informative when recounting its role as a social healer. Many pianos were donated to so-called “Cheer-Up Huts”, where they were played to boost the spirits of those returning injured from war.

Particularly fascinating is the story of the “Changi” piano, an instrument that brought happiness to countless POWs. It is now housed in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Other instruments made it as far as battle front lines where, as Atherton observes, their playing represented order among the “anarchic, chaotic and destructive sounds of war”.

Australian prisoners of war in Germany participating in a concert called ‘ANZACs on Parade’, accompanied by a piano.
Hodge and Chase/Australian War Memorial (Accession no. P03537.009)

Atherton can write with an enthralling sense of narrative, which is perhaps most evident in the final part of the book. Here he recounts the role of pianos in various post-modern creative projects.

Noting his own participation in what could be termed “pianofortecide”, these endeavours involved the ritualistic destruction and burning of old and unwanted instruments, all in the name of art. Aptly, the chapter is titled “Where do old pianos go to die?”. It provides a sobering, realistic glimpse of the fate of pianos that were once treated with love, care and respect. More often than not old pianos are dumped unceremoniously at the tip.

Wayne Stuart and Ron Overs have both, in their own ways, worked in recent years to establish locally made piano businesses, although their efforts seem somewhat in vain. Atherton, who has advocated strongly for Stuart’s instruments, asks some pointed questions:

Has Stuart been given a short life as a piano builder because most concert pianists do not wish to move out of their comfort zone? Have conventional sounds, conservatism in music and economics, and also, possibly, Australian tall poppy syndrome damaged the longevity of the piano, not to mention the ongoing vested interests and monopolies courted by local organisations and promoters?

The same could be asked of the never-ending stream of imported pianists who perform with our major orchestras on a weekly basis, while the wealth of talented Australian artists is fairly much ignored!

At times, A Coveted Possession is marred by insufficient attention in the proof-reading stage. And it feels as if the researcher’s bullet-point notes have been fleshed out rather casually in early chapters recounting historical developments, where a deeper sense of narrative would have satisfied more.

The ConversationBut for those who are interested in the history of the piano in Australia (and music in general), the book has much to offer. Despite the foretelling of the instrument’s demise on the cover, Atherton’s book ends on a high note: “The ‘goanna’ will still be sounding at the end of the century.”

Scott Davie, Piano tutor and Lecturer, Sydney Conservatorium Music, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Playing it safe: A brief history of lip-syncing


Alex Lubet, University of Minnesota

By now, you’ve probably heard about Mariah Carey’s New Year’s Eve disaster. After some technical malfunctions, Carey – who was supposed to lip-sync over a vocal track for “Emotions” and “We Belong Together” – ended up neither singing nor dancing much, and mostly talked about tech issues over the musical accompaniment track.

The reaction to the gaffe – which evoked Ashlee Simpson’s Saturday Night Live jig and Britney Spears’ bumbling 2007 VMA performance – was swift and harsh. Social media unleashed an avalanche of snark, while comedians like Stephen Colbert pounced.

But is the “scandal” of lip-syncing really so scandalous? Whether it’s a necessary evil or an efficacious substitute for performing live is a matter of perspective.

See no evil, hear no evil

The history of lip-syncing begins in the 1940s with “soundies,” short music videos produced for film jukeboxes. Baby boomers likely associate the practice with the television shows “American Bandstand” and “Soultrain,” where musical guests mimed their latest hits, often absent a live band.

But faking became controversial only when it was revealed in 1967 that the made-for-TV-band The Monkees didn’t always play their own instruments, relying heavily on studio musicians, especially on their early recordings. Critics derided the band, calling them the “Pre-Fab Four.” But they seemed more concerned than fans, many of whom cared little about whether or not The Monkees played their own instruments. The group rode out the storm, increasingly handling the playing (and also songwriting) duties.

Interestingly, while a number of popular bands like The Beach Boys, The Byrds and The Association would perform live in concert, behind the scenes – when recording their albums – they’d use a pool of Los Angeles studio musicians called the Wrecking Crew (who, in fact, also played on the early Monkees albums).

Meanwhile, in film musicals, it was a common (and uncontroversial) practice to use trained singers like Marni Nixon to cover the vocals for actors, whether it was Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady,” Deborah Kerr in “The King and I” or Natalie Wood in “West Side Story.”

Better safe than sorry

In the 1980s, MTV emerged. With it, the proliferation of a new form – the music video – heightened the importance of spectacle during live and televised performances.

The demands of choreography and acting – coupled with the acoustic and weather-related challenges of large outdoor venues – made live singing both more difficult and less of a priority. Covert lip-syncing in concert and on television became more common.

Many artists, especially those who perform in large, outdoor venues with complex, choreographed dance numbers, will lip-sync or sing along with prerecorded vocal tracks. These include Beyoncé, Madonna and Britney Spears.

For an aging virtuosa like Mariah Carey – known for her stunning upper register and vocal gymnastics – the risks of failed technology may outweigh the risk of veering off note. This is, of course, a different matter entirely from using digital devices to mask limited ability, a move more familiarly associated with auto-tune, a popular pitch-correcting device employed by artists ranging from Lady Gaga to Tim McGraw.

But the most infamous musical masquerade – and the incident most likely responsible for the intense scrutiny of lip-syncing – was the short-lived career of European R&B duo Milli Vanilli. After Milli Vanilli won the 1990 Grammy Award for Best New Artist, singer Charles Shaw, who actually performed on the group’s debut album, revealed that, on top of lip-syncing their way through all their live performances, they hadn’t sung any of the tracks recorded on their album. The Recording Academy rescinded its Grammy and, despite efforts to remake themselves as real vocalists, the duo faded into obscurity.

Milli Vanilli was caught in the act.

Yet the public and media can be inconsistent in their denunciations of musical fakery. While it was well-known that actresses Hepburn, Kerr and Wood lip-synced over Marni Nixon’s vocals, they appear not to have suffered any damage to their subsequent careers. (Kerr was even nominated for an Oscar for her role in “The King and I.”)

In contrast, Beyoncé came under fire for lip-syncing the National Anthem at President Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration. This was, of course, a high-stakes event fraught with challenges for a live vocalist: winter weather, outdoor acoustics and an enormous audience (to say nothing of a notoriously difficult song with an exceptionally wide range). According to Rickey Minor, who has produced a number of Super Bowl halftime shows, the pitfalls of these situations make performing live not worth it. And despite some controversy immediately following her performance, Beyoncé’s career and reputation certainly didn’t suffer any lasting effects.

With the exception of Milli Vanilli, nearly every major act that has endured a lip-sync scandal has eventually recovered. Given Mariah Carey’s heretofore brilliant career, her reputation remains on firm ground.

The Conversation

Alex Lubet, Morse Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor of Music, University of Minnesota

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The Invention of Radio



How Australia played the world’s first music on a computer


Paul Doornbusch, University of Melbourne

We don’t think twice about playing music via a computer – we have them in our pockets, and in our homes and offices, with music on tap. But playing music on a computer was once an almost unthinkable leap of the imagination and the most devilishly difficult programming challenge.

The world’s fourth digital computer was designed and built in Australia by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR, the precursor of the CSIRO). It started life as a dream in 1947, ran its first test program in 1949 and played music in 1950 or 1951.

Initially known as the CSIR Mark 1 – later renamed CSIRAC (the CSIR Automatic Computer) – it was built at the CSIR’s radiophysics division in Sydney.

CSIRAC was a very primitive computer by today’s standards. It was very slow (1,000 cycles per second); it did not have very much memory (about 2KB of RAM and 3KB of disk memory); it filled a room and; it had no display like a modern computer.

Out of the hooter

Most output from CSIRAC was via punched paper tape that was later converted to text on another machine. The only familiar output device was a speaker (called the hooter), and it was used to track the progress of a program.

Programmers would place a sound at the end of their program so they knew it had ended (this was known as a blurt), or they would program progress-indicator blurts into a program.

Despite being primitive, CSIRAC performed groundbreaking work, including running the calculations to find the centre of our galaxy in 1953, and for the engineering of our first skyscraper building.

CSIRAC before it was put on display at Museum Victoria.
Paul Doornbusch

CSIRAC was a serial computer, it passed digital bits around one at a time unlike the 32 or 64 bits passed around in parallel in modern computers.

The memory on the CSIRAC was mercury acoustic delay lines. That means a pulse would be put into the memory tube, it would travel to the other end of the tube and be recycled back to the front. In this way, many bits and digital words could be stored in one tube of mercury. There were about 20 memory tubes functional at any time.

A consequence of using mercury acoustic delay time memory was that each memory access took a different time. This would prove problematic for any time-critical application, such as playing music in real time.

The music maker

The first software engineer or programmer was the mathematician Geoff Hill, who is something of an unsung hero of Australian computing.

Hill came from a very musical family; his mother was a music teacher, his sister a performer and he had perfect pitch. This is crucial, as the way CSIRAC created sounds was by sending raw pulses from the computer data bus to the speaker.

If casually programmed, these pulses would arrive at the speaker at somewhat random times, resulting in the blurting type of sound used by programmers to indicate points in the program’s execution.

Hill would have quickly realised that if he could get the pulses to arrive at a regular time, then he would get a steady pitch. Then, perhaps he could program the notes of a musical scale.

This was an exceedingly difficult task because each memory access took a different time, and the overall clock frequency was only 1,000 cycles a second.

But Hill managed this, and his musical knowledge was invaluable, although on at least one occasion he telephoned his mother late at night and asked her if some notes were in tune while holding the telephone receiver to the computer speaker.

Her response on the first occasion was to scold Hill for playing silly buggers with a comb and a piece of paper and annoying her late and night when his dinner was in the oven! She didn’t understand what was going on.

A simple tune

Hill programmed CSIRAC to play various popular tunes of the day, such as Colonel Bogey, Girl with Flaxen Hair and so on. This was natural as the programmers were not musical specialists and were not interested in what using a computer meant for the potential composition and performance of music.

The music was one of CSIRAC’s parlour tricks. Dick McGee remembers it playing music when he started at the CSIRO in April 1951. At Australia’s first computing conference, on August 7-9, 1951, everyone was talking about it afterwards and it caused quite a stir.

The late Trevor Pearcey led the team that created CSIRAC and he remembers its musical performances well, as recalls in the video interview from 1996, a couple of years before he died.

CSIRAC was thus the first computer in the world to play music. Sadly, none of the music it played was ever recorded.

Change of plan at CSIRO

There was some internal refocusing within the CSIRO and it was decided to concentrate on weather science and primary production rather than computation, leaving that to others and the commercial sector.

So it is not surprising that the CSIRO resisted the music being recorded at the time. However, it has now been faithfully reconstructed and can be heard again.

A reconstructed valve amplifier built to the original CSIRAC design to generate the correct pulse shapes.
Paul Doornbusch, Author provided

A team at The University of Melbourne, led by myself, built (valve) hardware to faithfully reconstruct CSIRAC’s pulse shapes, and software to be able to run the old programs.

After hand reading and entering the data from the old punched-paper program tapes, the programs were run with the reconstructed pulses and the music regenerated accurately.

The team even went to the trouble of sourcing a new speaker made within a few weeks of the original to play the music through. Museum Victoria very kindly let us put the speaker in the old cabinets to record the music being played so that it is as authentic as possible.

CSIRAC plays a music scale.
Paul Doornbusch, Author provided116 KB (download)

CSIRAC plays Colonel Bogey.
Paul Doornbusch, Author provided270 KB (download)

CSIRAC plays The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond.
Paul Doornbusch, Author provided289 KB (download)

CSIRAC plays Auld Lang Syne.
Paul Doornbusch, Author provided287 KB (download)

Shortly after CSIRAC first played music, in 1951 the BBC recorded a Ferranti Mark 1 computer playing music in Manchester, England. That is the oldest recording of a computer playing music.

When CSIRAC moved to the University of Melbourne in 1956, it continued to play music. The university’s mathematics professor Tom Cherry wrote a program so that anyone could punch a “score” or “pianola” tape for the computer to play without the intricacies of knowing how to program the hooter.

Professor Cherry’s instructions on how to use the music program still exist.

CSIRAC music instructions.
Paul Doornbusch

A lost opportunity

The most significant early developments in computer music and digital audio happened in the United States from the late 1950s at Bell Labs.

In 1957, the acoustic researcher Max Mathews had the foresight to see the potential of this technology. He wrote a program that allowed an IBM 704 mainframe computer to play a 17-second composition.

Despite the earlier musical work with CSIRAC in Sydney, it is Matthews who is often referred to as the father of computer music.

But the developments started in the 1950s have led to the most exciting musical adventure we have ever embarked on – the application of digital technology to the creation, making, listening and distribution of music.

When discussing the CSIRAC music reconstruction project with the original engineers who had worked on CSIRAC in Melbourne, I lamented that the then Melbourne-based composer Percy Grainger had not been introduced to CSIRAC.

Peter Thorne, a former CSIRAC computer technician, told me:

We used to see him walk past the computation laboratory, we’d say, ‘There goes Percy Grainger’.

I sighed. Grainger was Australia’s most adventurous composer of the day was a few metres away from a machine that could have realised some of his musical dreams. If he had met CSIRAC, some of the remarkable developments of combining computers and music could have been another Australian first.

The Conversation

Paul Doornbusch, Adjunct professor of computer science at The University of Melbourne and Associate Dean, Australian College of the Arts., University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The Phonograph


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the phonograph and how it changed music.

For more visit:
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/phonograph-changed-music-forever-180957677/


Explainer: the history of jazz


Alexander Hunter, Australian National University

After more than 100 years of history, it’s clear the word “jazz” means many different things to many different people. Depending on who’s doing the talking, it can either mean a highly specific musical style, or almost nothing.

The early timeline of jazz is spotty, vague and disputed, as one might expect of a musical movement that grew from a group that was both marginalised and exploited. Jazz evolved from the fringes of American society into one of the most influential, and enduring, musical movements of the 20th century.

Scott Joplin.
Texas State Historical Association

New Orleans in the late 1800s was a remarkably cosmopolitan city, with a more racially egalitarian society than the rest of the American south. In that city, distinct musical trends began to develop, fusing elements of West African musical traditions with European harmonic structures. Musicians used readily available military band instruments left in pawn shops after the end of the American Civil War.

Scott Joplin, “the King of Ragtime”, popularised a music based on jagged (or “ragged”) rhythms, including the habañera, imported from nearby Cuba.

WC Handy, the “Father of the Blues”, travelled through Mississippi collecting and publishing folk songs utilising versions of the now standard “blues” form.

Jelly Roll Morton claimed to have invented what we call “jazz” in 1902, and did much to popularise the New Orleans sound through newly available recording technologies. By the time he recorded his Black Bottom Stomp in 1926, this new music had travelled as far as Chicago.

Jelly Roll Morton.
Wikimedia Commons

In 1917 the cultural hub known as Storyville was closed, which coincided with The Great Migration, in which more than a million African Americans travelled from rural communities in the South to major cities between 1910 and 1930.

That migration, combined with recording technology and Prohibition, brought jazz to an unprecedented number of black and non-black audiences.

During this time Louis Armstrong was at the forefront of jazz. He altered the performance practice of jazz from the traditional texture in which multiple musicians play melody lines simultaneously, to what we now recognise as the individualist, soloist-plus-ensemble format.

The period between 1935 and 1946, generally referred to as the “Swing Era”, saw small, soloist-plus-ensemble bands of Armstrong and others (now called “combos”), largely give way to big bands, consisting of about 18 musicians.

Big names from this period, in which “Swing was King”, include Duke Ellington (thought of by some as the greatest composer in all of jazz history), Count Basie, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, who was the first to perform with a racially integrated band in 1938.

Louis Armstrong.
Wikimedia Commons

Bebop and the recording ban

In the early 1940s a schism occurred in jazz that forever changed the face of pop music. Many black musicians resented the success of white bands and, led by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, returned to the virtuosic combo setting.

“Bebop” was faster and more complicated than anything that had come before it. This was the first time jazz audiences sat down and listened, moving out of the dance halls and into smoky bars. Jazz was becoming art music.

Just as bebop musicians were getting the hang of their new ideas, the Musicians Union in the USA enforced a ban on new commercial recordings as part of a dispute over royalties.

Ella Fitzgerald, November 1946. Photography by William P. Gottlieb.
Wikimedia Commons

For more than a year, starting in August 1942, almost no instrumental musicians were permitted to make new recordings (vocalists were, rather humorously, not considered musicians, and were exempt from the ban).

Interestingly, record labels came up with the idea of recording completely vocal (“a capella”) versions of popular songs – think of a baby-faced Frank Sinatra in a sort of period prequel to Pitch Perfect.

Frank Sinatra, Close to you, 1943.

Before the ban, vocalists were special soloists with big bands, and usually sang a verse or two in the middle of the song. But Tommy Dorsey’s trombone, not Sinatra’s voice, was the important feature. During the ban audiences became accustomed to vocal pop music, and haven’t looked back.

From this split in the early 40s between jazz as art music, and popular music with a vocal focus, the history of jazz follows the art branch (the other turning into the history of Rock and Roll in the subsequent 10 years or so).

From Cool Jazz to Hard Bop

Jazz musicians tend not to stay in one genre too long. Out of the rejection of the fast-paced, complex bebop emerged the late 40s new West Coast scene. Cool Jazz had a more relaxed tempo, with less focus on soloing and a return to ensemble playing.

Some big names here are Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans, Gil Evans (no relation), Gerry Mulligan Stan Getz, and even Miles Davis, who would be at the forefront of every innovation in jazz from the 40s, through to his death in 1991.

Stan Getz.
Wikimedia Commons

This caused yet another reaction, resulting in what is known as “hard bop”, which fuses bebop practices with R&B, Gospel and Blues influences, and is generally recognised as the default style practised and taught around the world today.

In 1958, when bebop had taken chord progressions and virtuosity to its extreme, Miles Davis began experimenting with the other logical extreme. Jazz musicians had been playing the same standard repertoire since the days of early bebop, and had become very adept at what is called “running the changes”.

Most songs have similar chord progressions – think of those YouTube videos mashing up dozens of pop hits using the same four chords (I V VI IV progression) – and the same improvised melodies (“licks”) can be used over many different songs. Some musicians became frustrated with this apparently mechanical way of improvising, and devised a solution.

Space, melody and free jazz

If bebop had the maximum number of chord changes, what might happen when there were no, or very few, chord changes? Miles Davis’ Milestones (1958) has only two chords.

Davis sought to encourage melodic improvising by removing the “crutches” of complex changes. This “Modal Jazz” represented a huge shift in the techniques utilised by soloists, encouraging space in solos.

Compare the beginnings of Davis’ solo on So What with the recordings made by Davis with Charlie Parker a decade earlier.

Archie Shepp.
Wikimedia Commons

This focus in attention to space and melody, combined with new techniques and ideas coming out of the classical avant-garde gave rise to avant-garde, and eventually “free”, jazz. Starting with The Shape of Jazz to Come in 1959, Ornette Coleman did away with chords altogether, encouraging musicians to play without being constrained by ideas of Western harmonic and melodic conventions.

This was quickly picked up by a number of musicians all over the world (including, perhaps most notably and importantly, John Coltrane, who had recently left Davis’ band), and gave rise to a wide range of free jazz styles.

These had little to do with each other apart from their shared lineage and their interest in sound, and the unrestricted (or at least, less-restricted) interaction between musicians.

Alice Coltrane in 2006.
Wikimedia Commons

As electronic instruments and funk gained in popularity, jazz musicians quickly jumped on new trends and innovations, starting in 1968 with Miles Davis’ Filles de Kilamanjaro.

As jazz moved through the 70s and 80s various elements of pop music seeped in, with just as many jazz elements seeping out – see David Bowie’s Young Americans (1975), for example.

When speaking of jazz in academia today (jazz theory, jazz aural skills, jazz piano class, etc.), we are using the vocabulary set out by the pioneers of bebop. As with all musics, in order to be studied and integrated into education, jazz had to be codified, and classicised.

To a jazz musicologist, the word “jazz” might connote a living, breathing tradition encompassing hundreds of musics from dozens of countries, fused with local folk and popular traditions.

But to my grandmother, jazz will always be The Andrews Sisters and that damned Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.

The Conversation

Alexander Hunter, Lecturer and Convenor of the Open School of Music, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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