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…written letters through the 8th of November. I’m going to stop until Wednesday; the election has removed all the other air from the room.
I’ve done 5 separate GOTV canvassing shifts and a miniscule amount of phonebanking. Tuesday I’m driving people to the polls in the morning. Nothing tomorrow; I’m alternating daddy-duty and teaching work.
Jazz music Personal Politics: genius improvisation
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It was my fifteenth birthday, and my parents knew I was a budding jazz fan. They got me a wondrous thing: a six-lp set billed as The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. And it was great. I started at the beginning and worked my way through Scott Joplin and Robert Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Billie Holiday…it was incredible.
And after taking a breath I listened to Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Thelonious Monk (one entire lp side!), Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor…
And the last side had three pieces by Ornette Coleman and one by John Coltrane.
I put it on the player. Here’s what I heard:
Ornette Coleman’s Quartet plays “Lonely Woman”
It started with a melancholic strumming, a giant bass sitar, cushioned in cymbal shimmer. What the hell?
I’d never heard anything so lovely.
And that, dear ones, was my introduction to Charlie Haden’s bass playing.
The early Ornette Coleman Quartet, circa 1961.
Time Magazine has hailed jazz legend Charlie Haden as “one of the most restless, gifted, and intrepid players in all of jazz.” Haden’s career which has spanned more than fifty years has encompassed such genres as free jazz, Portuguese fado and vintage country such as his recent cd Rambling Boy (Decca) not to mention a consistently revolving roster of sidemen and bandleaders that reads like a list from some imaginary jazz hall of fame.
As an original member of the ground-breaking Ornette Coleman Quartet that turned the jazz world on its head the late 1950’s, Haden revolutionized the harmonic concept of bass playing in jazz. “His ability to create serendipitous harmonies by improvising melodic responses to Coleman’s free-form solos (rather than sticking to predetermined harmonies) was both radical and mesmerizing. His virtuosity lies…in an incredible ability to make the double bass ‘sound out’. Haden cultivates the instrument’s gravity as no one else in jazz. He is a master of simplicity which is one of the most difficult things to achieve.” (Author Joachim Berendt in The Jazz Book) Haden played a vital role in this revolutionary new approach, evolving a way of playing that sometimes complemented the soloist and sometimes moved independently. In this respect, as did bassists Jimmy Blanton and Charles Mingus, Haden helped liberate the bassist from a strictly accompanying role to becoming a more direct participant in group improvisation.
And just as important as his historic role in the evolution of jazz bass playing is his sound. No bass player anywhere has as big a sound as Charlie Haden, and his presence on a recording is always unmistakable (and a guarantee of quality — the man has, as far as I can tell, never played on a bad record).
Education Personal: algebra homeschooling math
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My kid is 7. She doesn’t need to know algebra.
I am 54. I don’t need to know it either. So why am I studying it?
It’s not that big a time commitment. I have no tests to pass.
But as I thought about my hope for daughter to grow up fully numerate and unintimidated by math-y stuff, I realized that I had to get over my own intimidation in the face of math, which (despite having a whole family full of supernumerate math-lovers) I hated in school.
So I decided to map my own ignorance, with the help of various library books and Khan Academy videos.
How much of the algebra I was exposed to in high school stuck to me? Damned little, apparently. How much of my own incompetence is due to ignorance and/or incompetence? How much of it is due to lingering emotional responses from math trauma in school?
Recently I’ve been playing with lines and slopes. I have absolutely no recollection of ever learning y-b = m (x – a) or anything that looks like it, so my engagement with the formula and its constituents doesn’t seem to have emotional content (unlike, say, quadratics, which are associated in my mind with a terrible homework fight I had with my father somewhere in 9th grade).
The first thing I notice is now many simple mistakes are available for me to make at every step of the way. It is going to take many many iterations before this process is internalized in my (so to speak) mental muscle memory. I am intellectually aware of what’s required to calculate the slope of a given line — but the actual physical process of writing the numbers down in the right positions vis-a-vis one another is fraught with complications.
As a music teacher I’ve got an advantage over some other folks: I never had any musical talent, so I had to build my musicianship from the molecular level up, making every mistake possible. It looks like the same process is happening with math.
Music teachers with “talent” are often ignorant of two key factors in developing mastery: number of repetitions and size of learning increment. It’s not enough to repeat something until your student does it right — once it’s been done right is the time to begin repetitions! And it’s not enough to increment the learning in steps suitable to your own learning style — it’s essential to figure out the increments your student requires, which may be much smaller than what you needed.
My algebra increments are very small. Fortunately, I’m patient. Yesterday I did three or four slope formulas, some several times. I made mistakes in calculating the initial slope; I transposed x and y in my head; I reversed + and – signs; I simply wrote down a 3 where I meant to write a 2. Each of these and more sent me in different wrong directions — since I didn’t figure out what I’d done until later. And that was just in the initial calculation. Once I began trying to plug these numbers into the y-b = m (x – a) formula, a whole new collection of mistakes emerged.
You know what? I’m interested in the mistakes. Getting it right is not the objective here; the “goal” is to figure out as many different ways of getting it wrong as I can.
The fact that my daughter sees me doing this at the breakfast table is a bonus for the homeschooling process. I’m doing it because I’d like to get over my own anxieties.
Education environment Personal Politics: Arctic atmospheric CO2 carbon emissions
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The world’s air has reached what scientists call a troubling new milestone for carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollutant.
Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere. The number isn’t quite a surprise, because it’s been rising at an accelerating pace. Years ago, it passed the 350 ppm mark that many scientists say is the highest safe level for carbon dioxide. It now stands globally at 395.
So far, only the Arctic has reached that 400 level, but the rest of the world will follow soon.
Upfucked ungood. Sorry, kids. Good luck with your lives; you’re gonna need it. Sent May 31:
As kids, we clustered around the driver’s seat when the odometer on our family car turned over; Dad would decelerate a bit and we’d call off fractions of a mile. All those zeros were tangible proof of how far we’d traveled. Sometimes we’d celebrate (ice-cream!).
Now we get to watch as another and considerably more ominous number scrolls by. When CO2 is measured at 400 parts per million in the atmosphere over the Arctic, though, it’s nothing to celebrate. Scientists agree that the survival of our civilization hinges on keeping concentrations of this greenhouse gas below 350 ppm, a landmark we crossed decades ago.
While we always came home at the end of a family drive, it now looks as though industrial humans may have driven too far. The Earth we grew up on is irreversibly behind us, thanks to the past century’s profligate consumption of fossil fuels. No cheering this time.
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In 1980 I hitchhiked to New York to hear LaMonte Young perform The Well-Tuned Piano at the Dia Arts Foundation building. I had been interested in his music since I read Robert Palmer’s 1975 piece about him in Rolling Stone, titled “When La Monte Young Says ‘Take It From The Top,’ He Means Last Tuesday.” 1975 was also the year I discovered, and fell in love with, the music of Harry Partch (I was a weirder kid than I am adult, and I’m plenty weird).
My wife gave me Jeremy Grimshaw’s biographical study of Young, “Draw A Straight Line And Follow It” for my birthday (I’m fifty-four! Yikes!). Not being a Mormon, I found some of Grimshaw’s attempts to rationalize Young’s music-theoretical ideas under an LDS rubric somewhat bizarre (LSD seems more likely to me). Regardless, there was a lot of good information in the book which helped me understand more about the composer’s artistic trajectory.
Five Small Pieces For String Quartet
Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic Chord
Education music Personal
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When I started learning music seriously I was a teenager. I’ll turn 54 in a couple of weeks, and I’m still figuring out all this stuff, despite (or perhaps because of) being a professional musician and music teacher for three decades. Having a 7-year-old daughter is an enormous help.
In high school I took my first music theory class. The teacher’s name was Mr. March, which should have been a clue. The first day, he said to the class, “I’m going to test your musical ears.” He told us to take out a piece of paper. Then he said, “I’m going to play two intervals on the piano. You write down which is bigger, the first or the second.”
Then he turned his back to us and pressed some keys on the piano.
I did not have a freakin’ clue what was going on.
I did not recognize that he was hitting two keys simultaneously. What I heard was a series of sounds. What did he mean by “which one is bigger”? I’m pretty sure I just gave up on the exam.
Mr. March was operating under some default assumptions that were never stated. This is not uncommon in teaching, and it’s practically a given in music teaching, where teachers are distressingly likely to start where they are, rather than where their students are.
Here’s what I tell students who want to learn about music theory.
Musical sound concerns itself with vibration within the frequency range that our ears can perceive. Vibrations outside that range don’t get picked up by our ears, so we won’t talk about them.
Some vibrations have periodicity. Others do not. An example of the first kind is a tone played on a flute; an example of the second kind is crumpling a sheet of paper.
While musical performance uses both types of sounds, the study of harmonic relationships is only concerned with periodic sounds — the ones with identifiable frequencies, usually measured in cycles-per-second. Sounds with identifiable frequencies are called tones. If you take a series of rhythmic impulses and speed them up, they will turn into tones.
If you have two tones with the same frequency, they are in a very specific relationship. Their numbers match; they are in a 1-to-1 ratio. The musical term for this relationship is unison.
If you and I sing the exact same note, our vocal chords are vibrating at the exact same speed, and we are singing in unison. If we’re almost but not quite at the exact same speed, the frequency ratio between our voices changes from 1:1 to something more complicated. 189.235147 : 193.772121 is almost the same as 190:190 (which reduces to 1:1) but it’s a more complex relationship — and it’s perceived by our ears as “out of tune.” Obviously there are a lot more ways to be out of tune than to be in tune!
If you have two tones in the frequency ratio 2:1, their numbers no longer match, but their relationship is still simple. One vibration moves twice as fast as the other. The musical term for this relationship (in Western musical tradition) is octave.
Notice that the term “octave” means “eight,” which has absolutely nothing to do with the actual mathematics involved.
To our ears, the frequency of any power of 2 seems to have the same “quality” as any other. Notes an octave apart are given the same name in nearly every world musical system that goes so far as to name the notes in the first place. This means that experientially, 2:1, 4:1, 8:1, 16:1… are all identical 1:1.
Musical intervals can be quantified in various ways.
Keyboard or melodic distance simply measures how far you have to move your finger to get from one member of an interval pair to the other. From the lowest A on the piano to the highest is a finger distance of about a meter and a half. From “middle C” to the C-sharp immediately above it is a finger distance of about a centimeter. By this measure, the first interval is significantly “bigger.”
Ratio size just addresses the distance between the two numbers, and it maps nicely onto the melodic distance measure. From the lowest A to the highest is a ratio of 128:1; from middle C to the adjacent C# is a ratio of 16:15 (n.b., if you know this already, you also know that on the piano, thanks to the baffling miracle of equal temperament, this statement is untrue. Bear with me for the purposes of discussion, ‘k?). 128 to 1 is a bigger jump than 16 to 15, so the first interval is significantly “bigger.”
Harmonic distance, on the other hand, measures the complexity of the ratio involved. From the lowest A to the highest is a ratio of 128:1; from middle C to the adjacent C# is a ratio of 16:15 — but 128:1 reduces to 1:1, and 16:15 doesn’t reduce. An eight-octave jump has a harmonic distance of zero, while a “semitone” has a much greater harmonic distance. So when we use this measuring system, the second interval is “bigger.”
All harmonic intervals can be described as frequency ratios. Here are some of the ones we use most often:
3:2 is described in Western musical terms as a “fifth.”
Notice that the Western term describes the scalar or melodic distance (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol / 1-2-3-4-5), which has nothing to do with the actual mathematics involved.
4:3 is described in Western musical terms as a “fourth.”
Notice that the Western term describes the scalar or melodic distance (Do-Re-Mi-Fa / 1-2-3-4), which has nothing to do with the actual mathematics involved.
5:4 is described in Western musical terms as a “Major Third.”
Notice that the Western term describes the scalar or melodic distance (Do-Re-Mi / 1-2-3), which has nothing to do with the actual mathematics involved.
5:3 is described in Western musical terms as a “Major Sixth.”
Notice that the Western term describes the scalar or melodic distance (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La / 1-2-3-4-5-6), which has nothing to do with the actual mathematics involved.
As my little videos demonstrate, rhythmic impulses turn into pitch when you accelerate them. If you record yourself tapping 2-against-3 for an hour, then accelerate the recording by multiple orders of magnitude, you’ll wind up with two tones a fifth apart.
You don’t need to know about frequency ratios to use them effectively (just listen to the Beatles and you’ll hear some dynamite frequency ratios rendered with exquisite fidelity by people who never gave the math a moment’s thought). Most composers don’t know. Most musicians don’t know.
So why bother?
Speaking personally, I can say that learning all this has transformed my experience of music. I can spend a long time perfecting the tuning of a single interval — precisely because I have learned to perceive it as a source of deep experiential insight into simple mathematical relationships. Why bother? Because it’s cool; because it’s beautiful; because it’s universal.
Okay, that’s all for today.
Education music Personal Warren's music: homeschooling
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…Daughter and I have exchanges about music theory. She calls them “wacky questions,” and enjoys it when I give her puzzles about harmonic relationships. “If A is ONE, then what is the TWO chord? The FIVE chord?” “Spell a G major triad.” Etc., etc.
Recently we began moving into questions about harmonic sequences. “In the key of C, what is a I-IV-VI-V-I progression?”
She’s seven. I don’t have any huge expectations about this; it’s just a fun game we play. This is way out of her league.
Or is it?
At tonight’s guitar practice I was coaching her into a D-minor chord (the standard one at the bottom of the neck). She started playing a sequence, not too adroitly…and when I tried to steer her in the direction of something I had planned, she said, “Stop! I want to play my own progression!”
Then she dictated: “D minor, A minor, C, A minor, D major, G, A major, D.”
I did a little on-the-spot voice-leading to make two harmony parts and we sang through them. Cool. My daughter’s composing her own chord patterns.
Then she told me to “write it down, so we don’t forget it.”
I think it’s time to show her more about notation.
Education music Personal: genius near genius world music
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In the mid-to-late 1970s, I lived in group houses with a broad assortment of interesting people. One of them was Seth Deitch, who had as part of his vast array of stuff an assortment of reel-to-reel tapes inherited from his father, the brilliant animator Gene Deitch.
Eventually we acquired a reel-to-reel machine and began the process of dubbing all these tapes onto cassette. They were in poor condition, so this amounted to a rescue operation.
Some of the material was old jazz, some of it was old radio commercials; one reel contained a set of 1949 performances by John Lee Hooker that many years later got released as “Jack Of Diamonds.”
And one reel held this extraordinary document:
Tony Schwartz, master of electronic media, created more than 20,000 radio and television spots for products, political candidates and non-profit public interest groups. Featured on programs by Bill Moyers, Phil Donahue and Sixty Minutes, among others, Schwartz has been described as a “media guru,” a “media genius” and a “media muscleman.” The tobacco industry even voluntarily stopped their advertising on radio and television after Schwartz’s produced the first anti-smoking ad to ever appear (children dressing in their parents’ clothing, in front of a mirror). The American Cancer Society credits this ad, and others that followed, with the tobacco industry’s decision to go off the air, rather than compete with Schwartz’s ad campaign.
Born in midtown Manhattan in 1923, a graduate of Peekskill High School (1941) and Pratt Institute (1944), Tony Schwartz had a unique philosophy of work: He only worked on projects that interested him, for whatever they could afford to pay.
For many years he was a Visiting Electronic professor at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, teaching physicians how to use media to deal with public health problems. He also taught at New York University and Columbia and Emerson colleges. Because Schwartz was unable to travel distances, he delivered all out of town talks remotely. Schwartz was a frequent lecturer at universities and conferences, and gave presentations on six of the seven continents (not Antarctica). He was awarded honorary doctorates from John Jay, Emerson and Stonehill Colleges.
“Documenting life in sound and pictures” is something Tony Schwartz begin in 1945, when he bought his first Webcor wire recorder and began to record the people and sounds around him. From this hobby developed one of the world’s largest and most diverse collections of voices, both prominent and unknown, street sounds and music, a collection that resulted in nineteen phonograph albums for Folkways and Columbia Records.
During the 1950s, Tony Schwartz sent this recording out into the world, presumably under an early version of a Creative Commons license.
While I was already getting interested in what was then called “Ethnic Music,” this recording was something completely different — dozens of different songs from all over the planet, each introduced by the same voice. I must have listened to the Tony Schwartz Exchange Tape a couple of hundred times over the next few years, but time marched on and the dubbed version of the Tony Tape came to rest in my collection alongside hundreds of other cassettes. In the early 2000s I duplicated it onto a CD, where it continued to lie dormant.
I bumped into Tony Schwartz’ name a few times on various Folkways lps, but never learned much about the man until I started listening to the Kitchen Sisters’ wonderful “Lost And Found Sound” series — and then I had a delightful shock of recognition. Give this audio portrait a listen.
Anyhow, I’ve been transferring all my sound files to my computer, and this one finally had its turn…and I says to myself, says I, “Well, this certainly deserves to be out in the world.”
Here you go, world.
environment India Indian music music Personal Politics Warren's music: benefit concert
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India Indian music music Personal vocalists Warren's music: khyal pune
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This concert was arranged by Chaitanya Kunte, the extraordinary musicologist, composer and harmonium virtuoso.
It was a pleasant and unusual experience to have two melodic accompanists — Chaitanyaji on harmonium and Eeshan Devasthali (my Guruji’s grandson) on violin. Milind Pote provided the rock-solid and very sympathetic tabla sangat.
Here’s the concert, embedded as a single playlist: