The URI! Zone - 09/2001
The Hokies beat Connecticut today, 52 - 10. Noel did a good job as the new quarterback and the rest of the team still looks strong. I doubt that Vick's absence will be the big catastrophe that every sports pundit foretold.
On another note, my arrangement of Irish Washerwoman, commissioned by Blue Ribbon Brass at Tech, is complete. I've added a short description of it to my Music page. I have my first composition lesson on Tuesday, so I probably won't start any new projects before then.
By the way, that theory/comp picnic is actually next weekend.
It's another rainy, cloudy, "stay-inside-with-a-big-book" kind of day, just like yesterday. I re-read the Empire series this past week, and it always impresses me how well-written and planned the plots are. It's probably my second favourite series after Light & Shadows.
Last night while keeping up with my Tech brethren online, a low beeping invaded the back of my mind. It was one of those repetitive but persistent sounds that you don't notice for a long time, but one that you can't stop hearing afterwards. After turning off everything loud in my apartment (a fan and a Henry Mancini album), I realized the sound was coming from somewhere in the walls. A little more searching got me closer, when suddenly, it stopped. I couldn't tell if I'd imagined the whole thing or not.
Of course, the sound restarted as soon as I got back to work. I wandered outside to find that the sound was echoing up and down the walkways of the apartment complex. However, the farther from my door I walked in either direction, the softer the sound became, until I could no longer hear it. Around this point, I really got the feeling that I was just imagining everything, so I walked around the whole building to be certain. There's a dream-like, almost hypnotic quality associated with this, wandering around a darkened building after a rainstorm in search of a mysterious noise.
The culprit, when discovered, turned out to be some sort of alarm in an apartment almost directly below mine. Outside the front door, the piercing beeps saturated my brain, and I couldn't see how the occupants on either side were even surviving so close to ground zero. So being the dutiful neighbour, I reported it to the property manager who said he'd walk by later to check it out.
It's much easier to ignore something like that when you know it has a tangible source (and also when your music is turned up higher). The beeping didn't stop until ten o' clock this morning. At least I didn't die in my sleep in a blazing inferno...
The first Labour Day I've had off in five years, and already there's a rainstorm brewing overhead. Better that than a hurricane I suppose.
While reading a collection of articles on game design , I came across a section connecting music composition to the relationship between technology and design. It's something I've realized for quite some time, and even now I often struggle to stay out of the pitfall mentioned:
- There is an analogy to this situation that I have personally bitched about for years, in the field of musical composition. At its purest level, the act of musical composition (the design phase) is done purely in one's head, and the subsequent translation to paper and copy is only a method of communicating the mental sound-picture to players who can then execute it. As the composer gets more tools (tech), he can easily slip into the trap of basing all of his ideas on what his tools can do. One current example of this attitude in the music industry is the use of sequencers as a composition tool. An over-reliance on the sequencer (tech) to determine what you can compose (design) results in very similar, boring music, since you tend to avoid things that are difficult to express using the sequencer (tech limitations).
It stands to reason, therefore, that it's possible to conceive more interesting and innovative systems if you don't consider the practical limitations of technology during the initial design phase. However, because tech limitations are a reality, not all of the cool ideas you come up with on the design side are going to make it into a product that has a reasonable development cycle.
While on the subject of composition, here's another quotation I found interesting. It's an excerpt from a document by Janny Wurts (a fantasy author) for aspiring writers , and it really applies to composition well.
- 5) Writer's block - a misnomer! This is not some mystical malady that strikes and strangles your muse. It's actually (in my experience) caused by the failure to recognize that creative inspiration, and crafting draft into final art, are two separate and distinct processes.
FIRST - you cannot create and destroy at the same time! If you are drafting new storyline, you are CREATING. That means, turn off the voice in your head that wants to censor what's happening. Resist every urge that insists you must smooth out, correct, follow rules, or adhere to inflexible planning. Let the work GO. Allow all that chaos that wants to happen to creep in. DO NOT JUDGE what you write at this stage - just let the words pour out any which way, get the gist down, willy nilly. Push the passion, ride the emotion, nail down the raw concept on paper, and never mind how dumb it seems at the time. Then take pause, AFTER you run down. Shelve the draft for a bit. Get some distance.
NOW, you have something substantial to edit. DO not at any cost, begin this stage before you've let the idea spin down - if you try to evaluate it half baked, the nasty little censoring voice in your head is going to pick faults, insist it's not good enough, and in general, tear apart what's really an idea in half baked gestation. Once it's born onto paper, THEN you can look at it with the critical eye of the destroyer - the editor - which logically examines the gist of what's there, then acts by informed choice to craft the sketched scene into tight and effective prose.
NEVER EVER try to create and edit at the same time! The two processes are diametrically opposed, and will work against each other to stifle the flow of inspiration.
If you're at all interested in game design or writing, I'd recommend visiting one of the sites -- both are very interesting reads.
"Not even [John Cage] would argue that you need to know how to write a C major triad. He wrote so many of them!" - professor, on the importance of teaching music fundamentals
My make-up lesson was postponed until tomorrow so I took the time to consolidate old MIDI recordings. At some point, I should really archive all my old MIDIs as recorded sound files on CDs. That way I'll have an exact record of how I originally heard them, since my sound card has a tendency of changing with every new computer.
While at the music library today, I picked up an early biography of Stan Kenton and Gene Lees' Arranging the Score for a little pleasure reading in my copious free time. I'm also playing a bargain-bin game, Planescape: Torment which won all sorts of RPG awards in 1999. So far it's a really good text-heavy game, and although it's based on an AD&D model, you don't have to know anything about that gaming system to enjoy the game (thankfully).
Last night, I read Stan Kenton: The Early Years 1941 - 1947 by Edward Gabel. It reads a lot like a memoir, with countless stories that don't quite go anywhere, and jarring shifts in time and place (It really reminds me of Now You Know: Story of the Four Freshmen). However, it was an easy and enjoyable read, especially since I'm a fan of the Kenton sound. In his time, he achieved a merging of the jazz and classical idioms that was actually embraced by the general public (to an extent). His orchestras' sounds may not be the easiest big band sounds to listen to, but they're infinitely more rewarding to me.
Besides, how can you go wrong with a band that once played a tune called Blues in Asia Minor?
I discussed my previously undisclosed ideas about compositional pedagogy with my composition professor yesterday and he seemed very interested in them, especially how they could possibly integrate with technology and the new electroacoustical studio in particular. He's resubmitting a new grant proposal next week, and wants to add my pedagogical ideas into his outline.
There's not very much new BU-news to report on today, so I'll end with a Kenton quotation to keep you in the mood.
- "I think that it's only fair and proper that we tell you people here at the Tropicana room, that we have asked you here this evening under desperate circumstances: we are endeavoured to make an album that will sell. We have tried everything, from playing music backwards, forwards... we've played three tunes at a time, simultaneously, getting all kinds of polytonal effects. We've gotten so progressive that we went off the end and had to go back around and jump on again! We've tried every sort of thing -- we even tried to make rock 'n roll records but somehow that smells too when we do it.
So as I said, we feel that it's up to you people. If you approve of this music this evening, it will show on the record and even beyond the music, and the glow of positive-tivity (that's a good word) will dominate over the negative aspect that sometimes is a part of what so many critics hold in regards to our music." - Stan Kenton on At the Las Vegas Tropicana
I wrote a rough draft of compositional pedagogy ideas as they relate to technology, and was surprised at the number of ideas I had festering just below the surface. I've always been interested in it, but I didn't realize that over time, solid ideas were formulating without my conscious knowledge. I'll probably post that draft in essay form once the kinks are worked out.
I'm in the middle of the book on arrangers I got from the music library. Its a collection of articles and informal interviews with a variety of jazz arrangers and composers from fifties and sixties, and it's really quite good. The language is occasionally mangled to retain verb tense, but it's very thoughtfully written and provides some nice insights into the biographies of various composers.
"We're gonna play you a couple of dance tunes and see if we have any takers. If we don't, we'll go back to what we've been doing..." - Stan Kenton on Artistry in Symphonic Jazz
I'm in that antsy first stage of composing where nothing's written down yet and I'm still improvising at the keyboard in hopes of finding the next worthwhile hook to develop. This phase can be as short as a day, but in extreme cases, I've been stuck here for weeks at a time. My next project will be something for string quartet, since Dr. Wingate and I both agreed that my portfolio is just a wee bit brass-heavy right now.
I'm enjoying Modal Counterpoint more now that we're doing practical hands-on application stuff rather than lectures. Pedagogy of Music Theory is the most interesting; he keeps the class enthralled by using pointed comments to corral us towards the crux of his lectures. This approach keeps me thinking throughout the class, and is much better than the "me-talk, you-write" approach found in so many other classes today. Sadly, History of Music Theory is my least favourite class. I enjoy the readings, and I can understand why some people find the field fascinating, but honestly, history has never really attracted me. In the hours spent memorizing which monk wrote each treatise, I would prefer to be learning practical composition techniques. That's one of the complaints I have about Music Composition programs in general. From my limited perspective, I think people try too hard to train us as practicing theorists who can compose, rather than composers who know a little theory. Yes, a theory background is definitely a good safety net to have, but maybe if I had more composition classes, I'd be a better composer and not have need of the safety net!
- "It's laughable to me how theories of music are agreed to be a law or the way it always is for composing music. [...] A theory isn't natural law. A natural law is something like gravity. There's not much you need to know about the natural laws of the physical universe to be a good composer. Theory is something that is created by someone to explain and set guidelines in order to help others, as well as himself, to create. It's on the level of philosophy." - Chick Corea in Jazz Composer's Companion
Another victory for the Hokies, 31-0 over Western Michigan. Even though WMU played sloppily, Tech covered well for the possibly crippling loss of Lee Suggs. ESPN has even lightened up on their band-ban from the past few years, and included a few shots of the Marching Virginians between plays.
My plans for yesterday morning were ruined by an untimely migraine headache. My migraines leave me incapacitated for hours at a time, but likely I've only had two since the beginning of the summer. After fifteen minutes of minor spots, my vision goes almost completely white for about an hour. This is followed by an hour of clear vision, but throbbing pain in one side of my head, and then a couple hours of dull pain and nausea. It usually takes a full day before I'm back at 100% and able to make sudden movements without ghost pains. Needless to say, the football game was on very softly yesterday.
Yesterday evening, I went to the official theory/comp picnic at a professor's house which was enjoyable enough. We ended up at a smaller get-together last night after the picnic and hung out until the early morning hours. I also learned that there's currently 29 composition majors right now, of both the Doctoral and Masters variety.
Every day these past few weeks, I've woken up with a song running through my head that doesn't go away for an hour or so. The only odd part is that usually the song is something I haven't listened to since I was a kid, or even thought of recently, yet the tune spinning in my head is complete to the last percussive hit. For example, the other morning I woke up to Fish Heads (by Barnes & Barnes, I believe).
In other news, I finally got all my remaining textbooks from Amazon.com, but I think they may have misplaced the DVD which was the best part of my order. That's what happens when you send things by USPS instead of UPS.
- "I was working [in the NBC house band] with a wonderful trumpet player named Charlie Margulis. Charlie was a don't-take-any-crap-from-anybody kind of guy. We were playing along and rehearsing in studio 8-H, and Paul Lavalle was rehearsing the band. He stopped the band because there was a trumpet unison passage. He said, 'Play it alone, trumpets.' So we played it alone. He said, 'Try it once more.' So we played it again. He said, 'Try it one more time, please.' And Charlie Margulis says, 'Why!?' Like that. And Paul Lavalle says, 'It isn't together.' And Charlie Margulis says, 'It's together back here.' And Paul says, 'Well it's not together up here.' And Charlie says, 'Well clean the sh_t out of your ears!'
"What Charlie didn't realize is that up above us is the glass where the twenty-five-cent tours are going through, and they can hear it. That was the last time Charlie worked there." - Billy May in Arranging the Score: Portraits of the Great Arrangers
Both Virginia Tech and Florida State cancelled classes yesterday, along with many other schools and organizations. The state capitol here (which is only a couple blocks from my apartment) was closed as well, since it's a tempting target, being the only tall building in the city. The entire city felt like it was holding its breath - practice rooms were silent, no sorority girls were walking, and meter upon meter stood empty on the street.
Even before the dust had settled, the vultures were circling. Yesterday's crisis was a gold mine for opportunists of all stripes, and none of them wasted any time in searching for a soapbox. The media saw their chance to report on the next big "Condit" and spent the entire day looping the clip of the second plane crash, while reporting wild speculation as near-fact and quoting unrelated sources ad nauseam. An unending parade of representatives and senators exhausted the thesaurus for synonyms of "horrific" and "tragedy" while arguing that none of this would have happened if more money had been spent on their favourite defense contractor. Even the President realizes that this will be the perfect opportunity to show the American people that he isn't a lame duck, probably to the detriment of any country he defines as the scapegoat. This breeding ground of fear and public opinion will be the perfect rallying cry to expand on our already bloated military spending.
Thousands of people died yesterday, but that fact can be dismissed with a quick disclaimer of personal sympathy (also using the words "horrific" and "tragedy"). America is the land of opportunity so they're all quite willing to do the requisite mourning, if it means that tomorrow they get to reap the benefits.
To all of you who read this site, I hope that any of your friends and relatives involved in the incidents are alive and safe.
On a separate note, it still amazes me that so many people refuse to believe the United States is anything but a kind and just country, beloved around the world. They can't accept the fact that the US is a condescending behemoth with fingers in everyone else's pies... a country that's probably managed to offend everyone out there at least once. I think that as long as we're the "great white Satan", all the military spending in the world won't keep us completely safe.
Yesterday afternoon, I watched Memento for the third time, and it still has my vote for my favourite movie ever. If you've never seen it, this is one movie that you should definitely watch before you die, regardless of what kind of movies you enjoy. I also finished reading Gene Lees' book on arrangers, which was well worth the effort. There's some wonderful material included, especially in the thoughts of Mel Powell, who eventually "left" the jazz world and became head of the composition department at Yale after Hindemith.
Tomorrow is my twenty-second birthday, and I'm planning on celebrating by going grocery shopping, fixing the flapper in my toilet, and getting ahead in next week's History of Music Theory readings. I did pick up some fun books on popular music composition at the library though, and there's no doubt I'll get caught up in some frivolous computer game or something, so the weekend won't be completely arduous.
Recently I've been refreshing my meager piano skills through old method books. I don't have the physical dexterity to be fluent with both hands separately, especially since my hands are used to mirroring each other from playing the trumpet. At the least though, I'll be able to do what I could do when I passed piano proficiency some three years ago.
"Fundamentals texts are a lot like gerbils -- they proliferate and then they die." - professor, on why publishers like music fundamentals textbooks
This morning I took a trip out to Marsh Sands Beach near Panacea. On the road, I passed a dead armadillo, a live baby deer, and multiple trailers of Jehovah's Witnesses. It's been a cool, breezy weekend so far, though I bet the native Floridans are still complaining about the cold. At the beach (which was more of a natural beach than a sunbathers' beach), I saw a variety of birds, eels, and fish. I also saw a horseshoe crab washed up in the surf, and took some pictures of it. Finally, I saw a long thin tube that looked just like a dead eel, except that it was firmly anchored into the mud. It felt very eel-ish, but could not be uprooted at all. All of the pictures have been added to the Photo Gallery page. If you know what the eel-like thing is, please let me know.
Happy 22nd Birthday to Me!
In that no man's land between dinnertime and bedtime, there's nothing like peeling the wrapper off a Blue Bunny chocolate eclair and biting intoit. It's the little things that make life worthwhile.
I've added a MIDI dump of my work in progress to the Music page under Volume III. Work is still slow, as I haven't reached that point of inspiration where the remainder of the piece suddenly appears to me like an opium dream.
Another day, and life goes on. My old theory/trumpet professor at Tech, Dr. Bachelder, sent the following e-mail out to his class on Friday, and I got it from a friend in the class. I thought it was interesting enough to share here.
- Harmony Students,
I am listening to the service from the National Cathedral as I write this. At least by radio, I am witnessing harmony of a Higher Order. How fortunate, I think, that we get to study the great music lesson, harmony, that is appropriately the example and the metaphor for peace in the world.
Moreover, after observing the many New Yorkers and Pentagon workers, emergency personnel and volunteers everywhere, working tirelessly and fearlessly to restore order and get back to business as usual, I am moved by the fact that every single one of you was in class this morning - not because Music 2025 is more important than anything else, and not because your professor is so entertaining or profound - but because it is what we're supposed to be doing right now. And wounded as we all are, we're all doing it. Yes, I know, the quiz had something to do with it, but I'm certain that any of you could have found excuse to skip it had you chosen to do so.
' Just want you all to know, I was proud to be among you today. May this past week be the most difficult test any of you will ever have to face. I hope your families and all you care about are safe.
On the coding front, I've been doing some thinking about a musical data structure that would allow pattern-recognition across pitch and time. A data structure like this could be fairly simple to implement but allow a more complex object to search for things like perfect fifths and successive leaps. With a pluggable pattern recognizer, this data structure could even expand to two or more simultaneous melodies, and look for things like parallel octaves or outlines of tritones. If I have the time, I may start some preliminary coding, especially since it's not a graphical object (so it's not dependent on the latest version of JDK, which my IDE doesn't support).
My draft idea for compositional pedagogy has been added to the Writings page now (under Music Research). Minor portions of this outline were mixed into the new grant proposal submitted by Dr. Wingate for the electroacoustical music center.
"Remember that we are teachers, so we show, and we are lecturers, so we pile upon. It sounds like a football game. Can you imagine Bobby Bowden teaching music theory? That would be a kick." - professor, on the etymology of various terms
Yesterday's update was ready to go early in the morning, but DNS problems prevented me from reaching most of the Internet, including this page's web server. Even now I have to use a back-door solution to update my news, and can't visit more than a handful of my favourite bookmarks. Sorry for the delay in updating; no doubt my advertising income will plummet as a result.
Last night, my dad sent me a picture of me and my sister with the World Trade Center in the background. It was taken on a New York vacation in the late eighties. I've added it to the Photos page under the very first "Me" heading.
I sat in on a Fundamentals of Music Theory class yesterday for a pedagogy assignment and was amused by the amount of stuff that people don't know coming in as freshman music majors. It's strange to realize how many students simply cannot read music to start with. Of course, it doesn't make them any less of a musician, but I admire the tenacity it must have taken to get this far and be as good as they presumably are.
Here's a musical palindrome for you, courtesy of a classmate: Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas.
"'This is why you got it wrong, dummy.' Isn't it funny that we can't use the word 'dummy' in the classroom anymore? We can buy books with 'dummy' written all over...we have no problem labelling ourselves as dummies." - professor, on how to explain a student mistake
I'm still having sporadic problems with my Internet connection, as a result of the NIMDA worm which appeared on Tuesday, taking advantage of yet another Microsoft vulnerability. I'll try to post more meaningful news when everything is working properly on this end.
Not surprisingly, the Hokies beat Rutgers 50-0 today. Last year the score was 49-0, and the year before was 58-20. The bigger college football news was 5th-ranked Florida State's loss to unranked UNC. This should definitely improve Tech's chances for a decent bowl venue.
"As far as I know, the Canadians don't want to get involved too much, and don't really care to get their military over there. I mean sure, it's one guy with a slingshot, but he could at least show up for a day or two." - message board post on why President Bush didn't list Canada as a supporting country in his speech
I've added a Coding page to the URI! Domain. Currently, it's just a storehouse of old C++ and Java code, including the newly released source code for my Sliding Tile Puzzle and my Battle Report. In the coming months, I'd like to post my work on the musical pattern recognizer idea there (I really need to come up with a witty acronym sooner than later).
I have a problem with all of Florida's major state parks charging admission fees. I realize that parks and recreation aren't prominent budget items these days and I wouldn't mind contributing a couple bucks, but charging $3.25 per car plus $1.00 per person in the car just to park and walk around seems a little excessive. This morning, I visited the entrance to Wakulla Springs State Park (admission required), walked around the underwhelming Fort San Marcos, drove through the yuppified Oak Point Island, and walked around Shell Point (a small beach town that's seen better days). I have yet to find anything comparable to the parks and hiking trails of Virginia, but the search will continue...
"I am very well aware that French composers do the opposite, but not everything is good simply because it originates in France or has a French name. Otherwise, the disgusting epidemic called the French disease would soon be held in high esteem as well." - Friedrich Niedt, on using the Piccardy third (1700)
Every memorable project should have a witty acronym, so I'm officially kicking off my independent research as PRIMA (Pattern Recognition and Identification through Melodic Analysis). Over the next few days, I'll try to create some version schedules and brief design outlines on the Coding page. I've also updated the work in progress on the Music page for anyone following the progress of my string quartet piece.
Now it's time to study for tomorrow's pedagogy test. I've got a fairly busy day planned out... I need to get ahead on my class research, do some work for Dr. Wingate, and meet with the resident trumpet professor about my upcoming audition. The trumpet chops are coming back pretty fast, even though I didn't get much opportunity to play over the summer.
After making MP3s of the first twenty (of 125) selections on my Master's listening exam, I'm already up to ten hours of music, which is over a third of the size of my existing collection. This test is definitely going to be a bear. This evening, I also added a version plan to my PRIMA outline on the Coding page.
Some of the CDs from the library here are in piss poor condition -- I just pulled out a Beethoven piano concerto CD to find a long chasm extending across the entire disc from rim to hole. While it's great for testing out the facility of new dental floss, I'd rather be listening to it.
I've added a picture taken at Fort San Marcos last weekend to my Photos page. The grounds around the fort weren't the most happening place to be, but I kind of like the way the picture turned out.
In Tallahassee, you can find the usual array of trash cans and dumpsters, but there's a third method of trash pickup that I've never encountered before. At designated locations along the curbside and median, people simply dump their trash on the ground in little piles. Every week or so, a dump truck drives down the street, followed by a front shovel on a platform truck. The front shovel picks up the trash (including a liberal amount of turf) and drops it in the dump truck. The driver then honks at the dump truck (usually early in the morning) and the pair moves a couple hundred feet up the road. I wonder which civil engineer came up with that one...
"This may be the best first quiz, collectively, I've ever seen. You don't look that bright, but you obviously are." - professor, on quiz grades
I have nothing profound to say today, but then again, do I ever? September sure went by quickly...
"Um, I'm gonna sing a song called -- actually I don't want to sing it but the trumpet players have to have a rest and, uh, I'm gonna sing this song called 'You and I and George'. In seriousness, the song was written by a successful songwriter, who one day awoke with a terrible hangover and decided that people didn't listen to the words of songs anyway, and so he wrote this. [...]
You and I and George - Red Kelly, with the Stan Kenton band
Through the park one day.
And then, you held my hand,
As if to say,
I love you.
Then we passed a brook
And George fell in and drowned himself,
And floated out to sea,
Alone with me."
The Hokies won yet again today, 46-14 against Central Florida. I didn't actually get to see this one, but apparently it wasn't very pretty on either side. Also, Florida State regained some lost stature by beating an unranked team.
Tomorrow is the birthday of an old friend, Jennie, who I've completely lost track of during my undergrad years. Happy Birthday wherever you are! I try to keep a list with the birthdays of everyone I've ever met, and add to it when I discover a new one. Sometimes it can just make a person's day when they get a surprise birthday greeting from an unexpected corner. It's the little things in life...
"Now that actually is not the answer that I had in mind, because the book that I got this problem out of wants you to do it in base 8. But don't panic, base 8 is just like base 10 really -- if you're missing two fingers..." - Tom Lehrer, New Math
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