Composers & Improvisors: Invent Your Own Raga!

This is a rough approximation of the content of my lecture-demonstration on raga. This is how I introduce students in a university classroom to the underlying conceptual structure of raga-based melody:

With a simple recipe for making our own raga.

Here’s what we do:

Start with a tonic – fifth drone. Choose a second degree – either natural or flat. Choose a third degree – either natural or flat. Choose a fourth degree – either natural or sharp. Choose sixth and seventh degrees – either natural or flat.

For example, let’s say we choose: 1, b2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7, 8.

Play or sing this for a few minutes over the drone to experience the intervals.

Now, pick a number between 2 – 4. For example, 4.
Pick a number between 5 – 7. For example, 7.

Now we play/sing the original scale, but this time OMIT 4 & 7 on the way up, and include them on the way down. Thus:

1, b2, 3, 5, 6, 8 — 8, b7, 6, 5, #4, 3, b2, 1.

We play or sing this for a few minutes over the drone so we can learn the interval structure…the diminished triad ascending from the 2, the juicy diminished fourth that emerges on the way down between the b7 and the #4…all kinds of goodies are there to be found. Notice that certain phrases evoke ascent and others descent, giving improvisation a lot of motion.

Just going this far generate a ton of beautiful material. But there is one more refinement we can make on the process which will make our “raga” hang together even better.

Pick a group of three adjacent numbers. Any three; doesn’t matter. Let’s say we pick 5,6,7. Now…take those three notes, and make up a special tweak — just a little phrase, or a small shift in the sequence. For example, we’ll make the descent from the upper octave ALWAYS follow the rule 8, 6, b7, 5 — expressly forbidding a straight pathway.

Mess around with this for a while and we’ll start generating melodies automatically.

There is nothing special about this particular combination of intervals.

There are many ragas in the Hindustani system which are entirely built from an ordinary major scale.

In general, inside any raga, the more complex the intervals, the harder it is to *hear*; the more complex the rules of ascent/descent/tweaking, the harder it is to *think*.

Mess around. See what you can come up with.

Year 4, Month 10, Day 27: The Earth Sucks

Joseph Bast is the fetid mouthpiece of the Heartland Institute, and he’s been given a big mouthpiece by USA Today:

Environmentalists hoped the latest study from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would finally end the increasingly acrimonious debate over the causes and consequences of climate change. It has had the opposite effect.

MIT physicist Richard Lindzen called the IPCC report “hilarious incoherence.” British historian Rupert Darwall labeled it “nonsense” and “the manipulation of science for political ends.” Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology says the IPCC suffers from “paradigm paralysis” and should be “put down.”

The most precise criticism of the IPCC’s report came from the editors of Nature, one of the world’s most distinguished science journals: “Scientists cannot say with any certainty what rate of warming might be expected, or what effects humanity might want to prepare for, hedge against or avoid at all costs.”

Just shoot me. Oct. 17:

When the Heartland Institute’s Joe Bast blithely asserts that the IPCC report “exaggerates” the risks of global climate change, his cherry-picking of scientific criticism of the report is grossly mendacious. For example, Bast cites an editorial comment in the journal “Nature” which notes that “scientists cannot say with any certainty what rate of warming might be expected” — but ignores the rest of the article, which reaffirms both that warming is happening and that its consequences are likely to be disastrous.

The IPCC document is the result of collective decision-making, which means that the report’s conclusions actually minimize, rather than inflate, the dangers of runaway climate change. Mr. Bast’s statements are fundamentally dishonest and do a grave disservice to the national discussion of a genuine threat. For USA Today to offer the voices of climate-change denialism such a public forum in a time of genuine planetary emergency is sadly irresponsible.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 26: Take Good Care Of Yourself

The Bangor Daily News runs a WaPo piece on the IPCC:

If one body represents the international scientific consensus on global warming, it is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations panel that just released the first portion of its fifth authoritative report on the science.

The report’s headline finding is that “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

It’s not just that the planet has warmed over the course of many decades, during which people have released massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Among many other things, there is what scientists have called a “human fingerprint” — a pattern of warming in the troposphere and cooling in the stratosphere that is very likely characteristic of human influence.

The authors did not shrink from addressing one of the primary threads that critics have been pulling in their effort to unravel the scientific consensus — the recent flattening of global temperature rise.

This was the hook for some generic media criticism. October 16:

News coverage of the newly issued report from the IPCC is all too often a “balanced” approach in which the opinion of a huge number of climate scientists is countered by the vague assertions of corporate spokespeople.

To cut through the fog and clarify the discussion, we need to understand that scientific speech and writing is careful and rhetorically restrained, while that of our media is sloppy and profligate. Some pundits claim the report represents the views of “environmental extremists” and should therefore be discounted, but in fact, the IPCC’s consensus underestimates some threats and almost entirely omits others, such as melting Arctic methane; the document represents a very conservative assessment of our present level of risk.

And as such, it deserves to be taken far more seriously — for if there is one phrase that we are seeing with accelerating frequency in news about Earth’s climate, it’s “more than expected.” Polar ice melt, oceanic acidification, species loss, extreme precipitation, wildfire severity — all of these phenomena are happening faster and more intensely than scientists’ predictions even a few years ago. By belittling the findings and expertise of climatologists, our media figures and politicians are endangering the health of our planet and the happiness of our posterity.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 10, Day 25: Unraveling

The Vancouver Sun notes that there’s trouble in the waters:

A $32-million commercial fishery has inexplicably and completely collapsed this year on the B.C. coast.

The sardine seine fleet has gone home after failing to catch a single fish. And the commercial disappearance of the small schooling fish is having repercussions all the way up the food chain to threatened humpback whales.

Jim Darling, a Tofino-based whale biologist with the Pacific Wildlife Foundation, said in an interview Monday that humpbacks typically number in the hundreds near the west coast of Vancouver Island in summer. They were observed only sporadically this year, including by the commercial whale-watching industry.

“Humpbacks are telling us that something has changed,” he said. “Ocean systems are so complex, it’s really hard to know what it means. For one year, I don’t think there’s any reason to be alarmed, but there is certainly reason to be curious.”

Not a single fucking fish. Not one. What would they do if they only caught one, I wonder? Would it get interviewed on “Oprah”? October 15:

While there can be no doubt that economically-driven overfishing has been a huge factor in the extraordinary collapse of many fish populations, the evidence is now overwhelming that another ingredient in this toxic mix is the impact of climate change. As Earth’s oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, they are becoming ever more acidic, which has devastating consequences for many forms of sea life. Furthermore, this change in the water’s chemical makeup is exacerbated by a global increase in temperature — a double-whammy which is forcing many species out of ecological niches they have occupied for centuries or millennia and into a stressful and failure-prone struggle for survival.

The interdependence of oceanic ecosystems is still poorly understood, but the empty fishing nets of the sardine industry provide tangible testimony to the unraveling fabric of aquatic life. By muddling the public discussion of this crucial issue, climate-change deniers in industry, politics, and the media are contributing to an ongoing environmental and humanitarian disaster.

Warren Senders

Competitive Eschatology and Climate Denial

This post dates from 2011, but I think it deserves to be front-paged again.

For many years I have been thinking a lot about group minds and collective intelligence, with influences ranging from Thomas Malone (of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence) to E.O. Wilson’s detailed examination of insect colonies and the nature of the “superorganism.” As I tried to extend the “group mind” concept across larger timespans, I found myself both depressed and elated. Elated because I was understanding more about why the “powers that be” didn’t seem to give a shit — and depressed for the same reason.

Thinking About Collective Intelligence

Accepting the reality of collective intelligence is not as big a leap as James Lovelock requests of us when he posits the Gaia Hypothesis, but it’s still a leap.

more »

Year 4, Month 10, Day 24: Move Over, Little Dog

The Washington Times haz a sad:

The Los Angeles Times has stirred a dust-up over global warming with a newly announced policy barring letters to the editor that deny the existence of man-made climate change.

“Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published,” said Paul Thornton, letters editor of the editorial page, in an Oct. 8 column. “Saying ‘there’s no sign humans have caused climate change’ is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.”

On the surface, climate-change skeptics say they have no problem with the policy, because nobody with any substance is saying that humans don’t cause climate change. Cutting down a forest causes climate change. Planting crops causes climate change.

“Obviously, humans do have an impact on climate,” said Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a leading global-warming skeptic. “The question is whether burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas is leading to the rapid warming of the planet, and notwithstanding the Los Angeles Times‘ position on the issue, the evidence is that it isn’t.”

Whether that’s enough to get Mr. Ebell bumped from the letters-to-the-editor page is unclear, but he says the newspaper’s policy is emblematic of a broader debate.

In his column, Mr. Thornton also states that many letter-writers insist “climate change is a hoax, a scheme by liberals to curtail personal freedom.”

I don’t usually write the WT, but when I do, I have fun. This one was a blast. October 14:

The Los Angeles Times’ decision to ban letters rejecting the science of climate change is an example of liberal fascism at its worst. This tendency to ban ideologically inconvenient opinions can also be seen, for example, in the policy of many American newspapers to ignore letters asserting that medicine must acknowledge the theory of Humours, a comprehensive approach to human health which was accepted doctrine for far longer than the unproven accomplishments of modern medicine. It can be seen in a similar policy silencing the voices of those who cast doubt on the inverse-square law’s ostensible connection with gravitational attraction, and those who likewise recognize the fact that acquired characteristics can be inherited across generations. The liberal hegemony in our nation’s press even conspires to silence those who rightly reject the veracity of NASA’s account of the moon landings. The American people need to hear both sides of the argument!

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 23: Use It Up, Wear It Out

The Sierra Vista Herald (AZ) announces a talk on regional impacts by a local climatologist:

A University of Arizona climate expert will discuss how increasing climate instability will affect the residents and landscapes of the U.S. Southwest during the Huachuca Audubon Society meeting on Oct. 15. The meeting is free and open to the public.

Gregg Garfin, deputy director for science translation and outreach at the UA Institute of the Environment, will outline regional climate change issues and challenges, from strained water resources, to more tree-killing pests, to threats to agriculture, energy, and human health, during his 7 p.m. talk in Room 702 on the Sierra Vista campus of Cochise College.

Garfin’s presentation highlights findings presented in a new book, “Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States,” which details current and projected regional climate impacts and offers information that can help ensure the wellbeing of the region’s inhabitants in the decades to come.

This is a pretty generic letter. I’ve got stuff to do today. October 13:

Arizona and its neighbors in the Southwest aren’t alone in coming face to face with the troublesome facts of change. Everywhere on Earth, people are discovering that the bill for a century-long carbon binge is coming due. Scientists have important predictions for agriculturists — whether they’re monocropping factory farmers in the corn belt or peasants in the world’s poorest nations — and those predictions are unanimously anticipating that unpredictable and extreme weather is going to bring increasingly uncertain harvests. That translates into a humanitarian disaster just around the corner.

There’s may be arguments about the best ways to get ready for the impacts of an onrushing greenhouse effect — but we are absolutely certain to fail if we cannot accept the existence, causes, and harmful potentials of climate change. Corporations who fund climate-denying media figures and politicians are acting in the worst interests of our species, sacrificing the prosperity of our posterity for a few extra points of profit or a flash of fame on the boob tube. Denial is no longer an option.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 22: That Voodoo That You Do So Well

Derrick Jackson, in the Boston Globe, asks:

Are lobsters the new symbol of climate change?

The answer, increasingly, is yes. Lobster populations are exploding in the Gulf of Maine, but are plummeting in the waters of southern New England. In 2012, the Gulf of Maine set a record catch of 126 million pounds, double the average of a decade before and six times the average of the 1980s.

Meanwhile, annual lobster landings in Buzzards Bay were just 72,000 pounds last year, down from 400,000 pounds in the late 1990s and from just under a million pounds in the 1980s, according to Massachusetts state lobster biologist Bob Glenn.

The population loss is likely due to warmer waters and disease that may be associated with such water. “We just watched a geological event occur in about a decade,” Glenn said. Scientists speculate that the population boom in Maine is also due to record warm waters, which fueled massive early productions, as well as the overfishing of ground fish that eat lobsters.

The lobster catch in Maine had a record value of $340 million. But the bounty backfired for many individual lobstermen, who were stuck with the lowest per-pound prices in nearly 20 years.

I never liked lobsters, so climate change doesn’t concern me. October 12:

Massive shifts in lobster population off New England’s coastlines may temporarily favor Maine, but in the long run, climate change is going to bring everybody a bumper catch of pain. Fishermen everywhere are encountering catastrophic declines; there may be brief interludes of plenitude, but overall, it’s indisputable that we’ve reached Peak Fish. The two most immediate oceanic impacts of climate change are heating and acidification, which will bring increasingly catastrophic disruptions in the coming decades.

Given that several billion people directly or indirectly get their sustenance from the seas, this is a genuine humanitarian emergency. Factor in the greenhouse effect’s impact on agriculture, and it’s a grim harbinger of future sorrows.

The fossil-fuel industry’s support for climate-change denial in politics and the media is a grave error. With billions of lives at stake, these corporations have elevated the easy lure of quarterly profits over our species’ long-term happiness and prosperity.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 10, Day 21: They’ll Drive You Crazy, They’ll Drive You Insane

USA Today runs a good column from Dan Becker and James Gerstenzang, explicitly drawing a link between tobacco denialists and climate denialists:

Half a century ago, the tobacco industry tried to preserve its market by misleading Americans about the scientific validity of research demonstrating that smoking causes cancer. To weaken efforts to fight global warming, the “climate change denial machine,” in the words of the Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society, has been using that same strategy. For more than 20 years it has sought to cast doubt on the science that demonstrates that the climate is changing and pollution is to blame.

Why is anyone still paying attention?

The denial lobby is using pseudo-science and cherry-picked data to present the fringe view that global warming is nothing more than what Sen. James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, famously called “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Once again it has reprised its tired — and false — arguments to debunk the premier scientific assessment of global warming, produced by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. On Sept. 27, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization declared with near certainty that human activity is causing the climate to change. The panel’s previous assessment, issued in 2007, was only slightly less certain — 90% versus the 95% in the new report. An overwhelming majority of climate scientists endorsed it.

In short, the global warming deniers are as wrong as the smoke-blowers who said in the 1960s that a pack a day was fine. No one seriously argues today that tobacco isn’t bad for you — and if they did, no one would listen. But the Marlboro Men of global warming still draw attention as they deny the consensus conclusion that burning fossil fuels in power plants, cars and factories is trapping heat in the atmosphere. They deny that this will raise sea levels, bring more violent storms, and worsen droughts and heat waves. What are they smoking?

So I pulled something out of the files and shuffled things around, and sent it in. October 11:

As long as corporations can reap substantial profits at the expense of ordinary citizens, there’ll always be lucrative job openings for professional liars. So it’s unsurprising that many of the individuals and organizations busily disseminating misinformation about climate change did the same thing years ago for cigarette manufacturers.

But there is a far more significant analogy just below the surface: the psychology of addiction.

Every smoker has lots of excuses. “I’ll cut down,” “it helps me relax,” “my aunt smokes and she’s 99,” “I’m too busy to quit.” These phrases are oddly similar to the fossil-fuel industry’s rhetoric against meaningful policies addressing climate change. Consumer culture is hooked on oil and coal, and this addiction is destroying our planet’s health. The misleading rationalizations of industry-paid denialists arguing against the threats of global climate change are eerily similar to a heavy smoker’s hacking contempt for the warnings of his oncologist.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 20: What Can A Poor Boy Do?

The Washington Post seems determined to atone for years of George Will columns. Here’s a perspective on climate change as it’s going to hammer cities, based on a new study in Nature:

Climate scientists sometimes talk about something called “climate departure” as a way of measuring when climate change has really changed things. It’s the moment when average temperatures, either in a specific location or worldwide, become so impacted by climate change that the old climate is left behind. It’s a sort of tipping point. And a lot of cities are scheduled to hit one very soon.

A city hits “climate departure” when the average temperature of its coolest year from then on is projected to be warmer than the average temperature of its hottest year between 1960 and 2005. For example, let’s say the climate departure point for D.C. is 2047 (which it is). After 2047, even D.C.’s coldest year will still be hotter than any year from before 2005. Put another way, every single year after 2047 will be hotter than D.C.’s hottest year on record from 1860 to 2005. It’s the moment when the old “normal” is really gone.

A big study, just published in the scientific journal Nature, projected that the Earth, overall, passes climate departure in 2047. The study also projects the year of climate departure in dozens of specific cities.

Dancing In The Streets! October 10:

Cities everywhere will need lots of preparation for a climate-changed future. Some aspects are easily predicted — bridges, drainage, power grids and communications networks must be strengthened with multiple levels of redundancy, so that extreme conditions can’t cripple an entire urban society overnight. But there is another, more subtle kind of infrastructure that also needs reinforcement.

Cities contain hundreds of interdependent neighborhoods, all with their own micro-cultures, mores, and local economies. Community centers, boys and girls clubs, volunteer groups, and block associations form the social systems that can make or break a city’s survival in difficult times. Just as nations anticipating millions of climate refugees must strengthen diplomacy and border security, cities must invest in nurturing healthy and resilient communities. Parks, civic spaces, arts and education programs are not frills, but necessities, if we want to avoid a worldwide and never-ending “long, hot summer” of dystopian urban collapse and violence.

Warren Senders