Tag Archives: Curiosities

Returning to “La source”

Four historic performances of Arthur Saint-Léon’s ballet La source, spanning 150 years, illustrate how—through the sacrifice of a feminized nature—the work represented the biopolitics of sex and race, and the cosmopolitics of human and natural resources.

In 1866, when La source debuted, the public at the Paris Opéra may have been content to dream about its setting in the verdant Caucasus, its exotic Circassians, veiled Georgians, and powerful Khan. Yet the ballet’s botany also played to a public thinking about ethnic and exotic others at the same time—and in the same ways—as they were thinking about plants.

Along with these stereotypes, with a flower promising hybridity in a green ecology, and the death of the embodied Source recuperated as a force for regeneration, the ballet can be read as a fable of science and the performance as its demonstration.

Programmed for the opening gala of the new Opéra, the Palais Garnier, in 1875 the ballet reflected not so much a timeless Orient as timely colonial policy and engineering in North Africa, the management of water and women.

Its 2011 reinvention at the Paris Opéra, following the adoption of new legislation banning the veil in public spaces, might have staged gender and climate justice in sync with the Arab Spring, but opted instead for luxury and dream.

Its 2014 reprise might have focused on decolonizing the stage or raising eco-consciousness, but it exemplified the greater urgency attached to Islamist threat rather than imminent climate catastrophe, missing the ballet’s historic potential to make its audience think.

This according to One dead at the Paris Opera Ballet: La source 1866–2014 by Felicia M. McCarren (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020; RILM Abstracts 2020-54905).

Above, Eugénie Fiocre in La Source, depicted by Edgar Degas circa 1868; below, an excerpt from the 2011 production.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance, Performance practice

The dervish sound dress

The dervish sound dress is a piece of wearable technology inspired by the sacred experience of the whirling dervishes of Turkey.

The garment is a body instrument that emits musical sounds when the wearer moves in it, as well as triggering a haptic vibration response. It emulates the vibrations that are felt while a musician plays an instrument, and the emotional response that the musician and a performer such as a dervish feels.

The construction of the dress involves a variety of sensors that perform according to how the sound is triggered by the movement of the wearer. These determine the output based on the rotation of the dress using gyroscopes, accelerometers that measure the speed of the dress as it is turning, and flex sensors that trigger sounds when the arms are in certain positions.

The sound design component relies on organic sound samples of the classical Turkish ṭanbūr recorded by a musician and manipulated in computer music design software. This gives the garment a unique edge by functioning as a computer digitized representation of an instrument that is activated by motions of the body. The sounds are triggered using algorithms created in Max Cycling ’74 software. These patches will detect a threshold of movement by the wearer before a sound is triggered.

This according to “Dervish sound dress: Odjevni predmet sa senzorima koji emitiraju zvuk i haptičkim odzivom/The dervish sound dress: A garment using sensors that emit sound and haptic feedback” by Hedy Hurban, an essay included in Muzika–nacija–identitet/Music–nation–identity (Sarajevo: Muzikološko Društvo Federacije Bosne i Hercegovine, 2020).

Video documentation of the dervish sound dress is here.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance, Science

Gumleaf redux

Herb Patten, an Elder of Koori, painter, and outstanding gumleaf player, has preserved this indigenous tradition by performing everywhere from pubs and parties to national television and the Sydney Opera House.

Patten (above) has enabled anyone to participate in this tradition with his book/CD set How to play the gumleaf (Sydney: Currency, 1999; RILM Abstracts 1999-14755). Patten’s book includes practical tips on how to select a suitable leaf and develop proper lip technique, and his demonstrations include popular and old-time songs along with the calls of several indigenous Australian birds.

Below, Herb Patten holds forth.

BONUS: Now there’s no need to imagine hearing John Lennon’s Imagine on a gumleaf.

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Filed under Australia and Pacific islands, Curiosities, Instruments

Charles Ives’s transcendental Fourth of July

Charles Ives’s The Fourth of July (1912) abounds with polymeter, polytonality, dense simultaneous layering of seemingly independent and contrasting elements, and quotations from at least 15 traditional U.S. songs and march tunes. In particular, the work includes two musical “explosions” (representing fireworks) comprising extremely dense strata of non-synchronous materials.

However, a close analysis of Ives’s compositional techniques demonstrates how the work’s many diverse elements have been integrated within a carefully organized structural framework.

Further, an equally deliberate pondering of Ives’s philosophical and aesthetic ideals illuminates how the work expresses his deep connection to transcendentalism’s search for spiritual truth in the divine oneness of the present, the ongoing fabric of human experience. In its depiction of a boy’s experience of a community’s celebration, Ives’s work points to the shared spiritual roots that underlie this communal expression; the inner relationships between its seemingly disparate elements are analogous to the oneness that pervades all things in the transcendental universe.

This according to “Beyond mimesis: Transcendentalism and processes of analogy in Charles Ives’ The Fourth of July” by Mark D. Nelson (Perspectives of new music XXII/1–2 [1983–84] 353–84; RILM Abstracts 1984-5966).

Happy Fourth of July! Below, a recording of the work by the New York Philharmonic, led by Leonard Bernstein.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities

Ora Watson, buck dancing fiddler

“I was born a-dancing” Ora Watson used to say, and indeed when she was barely old enough to stand she would try dancing on her mother’s lap at church when the music started. Watson’s father, an expert old-time musician, was also a great buck dancer, and she recalled picking up steps from him.

A farmer, mother of four, and veteran of several old-time and bluegrass bands, Watson could raise the energy on any stage by playing fiddle and dancing at the same time, often to her favorite fiddle tune, “Ragtime Annie”. In her youth she won several dance competitions, including at least one Charleston competition, and old-time buck dancing aficionados could spot the Charleston’s influence on her footwork.

This according to “Ora Watson, Watauga County’s senior musician: ‘Music keeps me young!’” by Mark Freed (The old-time herald XI/1 [October-November 2007] 16–21; RILM Abstracts 2007-29464).

Today would have been Ora Watson’s 110th birthday! Above and below, holding forth in 1993, when she was 82.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance

The Air Horn Orchestra

Comprising area musicians, band members, and concerned residents, the Raleigh-based Air Horn Orchestra staged a months-long sonic protest in 2016 to ensure that North Carolina governor Pat McCrory really heard their outcry against the infamous House Bill 2, better known as HB2 or the Bathroom Bill, which eliminated important anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community in North Carolina.

And how could he not hear? Air horns, whistles, trumpets, bells, and just about anything that could produce noise wailed outside the Governor’s Mansion weekly for over eight months. In addition to annoying the sitting governor, his staff, and their security detail, the cacophony stirred up national media attention and raised needed funds to help overturn the bill.

This according to “Sound politics: The Air Horn Orchestra blasts HB2” by Tina Haver Currin (Southern cultures XXIV/3 [fall 2018] 107–24; RILM Abstracts 2018-58458).

Below, a documentation of the Air Horn Orchestra’s efforts (Ms. Haver Currin addresses the group first; the performance begins around 2:00).

Related article: Cacerolazo and social media

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Filed under Curiosities, Politics

Dürer’s bathing musicians

Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut Das Männerbad (ca. 1496–97) includes a portrayal of two men playing recorder and rebec in a public bath.

The artist’s meticulous attention to detail shows clearly that the recorder is a flûte à neuf trous (drilled to give the player a choice of left or right little finger, the unused hole to be filled with wax).

In the bath, singing is probably more widely practiced than instrumental playing, and indeed, wooden instruments might not take too kindly to the humidity; some people might be more attracted to drinking while bathing, like the gentleman to the musicians’ left.

This according to “Musical ablutions” by Herbert Hersom (The recorder magazine X/1 [March 1990] 20–21; RILM Abstracts 1990-30337).

Today is Dürer’s 550th birthday! Below, music by Ludwig Senfl, who worked at the court of Maximillian I around the time that Dürer was employed there.

More posts about iconography are here.

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Filed under Curiosities, Iconography, Iconography, Instruments, Renaissance

Improv Everywhere!

The improvisation collective Improv Everywhere specializes in staging public-space interventions, which they refer to as pranks or missions.

By enlisting pedestrians in discrete one-time events that challenge protocols of public contact and that expand our understanding of public flexibility and empathy, Improv Everywhere offers an antidote to mainstream, hegemonic formulations of spectacle, virtuosity, and generalized expectations concerning the purpose of performance.

The group’s integration of trained and untrained performers (whom they refer to as agents), the kinds of space and sociality that they create, and the connections between their live and web presences reveal noteworthy contemporary understandings of intimacy and the social fabric.

This according to “Why not Improv Everywhere?” by Susan Leigh Foster, an essay included in The Oxford handbook of dance and theater (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015, 196–212; RILM Abstracts 2015-23390).

Above and below, Conduct us, a collaboration with the designer Ilya Smelansky and New York City’s Carnegie Hall.

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Filed under Curiosities, Humor, Performance practice

Transformational grammar and the foxtrot

Chomskyan transformational grammar provides a useful framework for a semasiological analysis of the foxtrot.

The foxtrot follows seven transformational rules; three are optional rules that account for certain variations that may occur while dancing at a club or in the studio while choreographing a dance, and four rules are obligatory. One rule involves gender agreement in proper foot choice, and three rules establish the relationship to the foot-placement structure and the slow-rhythm structure.

These few rules generate all the foxtrot steps one can produce: 1. Rhythm Transformation (optional); 2. Chasse Support (optional); 3. Walk Support (optional); 4. Slow-Rhythm Foot Position Junction (obligatory); 5. Gender Agreement (obligatory); 6. Direction/Turning Junction (obligatory); and 7. Foot/Direction Junction (obligatory).

This according to “A phrase-structural analysis of the foxtrot, with transformational rules” by Edward A. Myers (Journal for the anthropological study of human movement I/4 [fall 1981] 246–68; RILM Abstracts 1981-24274).

Above, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; below, a brief documentary.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance

Telemann’s wit

Georg Philipp Telemann’s ability to produce high-quality works at lightning speed is well known; less remembered today is his mischievous sense of humor. He was known among his friends for writing wickedly clever satirical verses and playing musical practical jokes, as he once did with a cantor from a nearby village.

Seeking to aggrandize himself, this cantor determined that he would honor a certain festival day by performing a new sacred work by the local master. He repeatedly requested that Telemann write something for him and his choir, and, knowing that their musicianship was decidedly inferior, the composer repeatedly declined. At last the cantor made such a pest of himself that Telemann told him that he and a few friends would arrive with the new work for a rehearsal before the performance.

On the appointed day the composer handed the new work—a treacherously difficult fugue—to the cantor, whispering to his friends “Now the thieves shall confess their sins.” The singers proceeded to produce a dismal, discordant rendition as they unknowingly made fun of themselves. Telemann had set the line “Wir können nichts wider den Herrn reden” (We cannot speak against the Lord) in such a way that the hapless singers were “confessing” their ineptitude by repeating the words “Wir können nichts” (We cannot)!

The composer laughed heartily. “That certainly won’t do” he said. “Let’s see how we can remedy this.” He then took out a different composition, and he and his friends performed it—both saving the day and humiliating the presumptuous cantor.

This according to “Images of Telemann: Narratives of reception in the composer’s anecdote, 1750–1830” by Steven Zohn (The journal of musicology XXI/4 [2005] 459–486; RILM Abstracts 2004-6402).

Today is Telemann’s 340th birthday! Below, a merry bit of tone-painting—“Postillion” from his Tafelmusik.

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities, Humor