Spontaneously recorded music and natural noise, once they are chosen and ordered in a film’s soundtrack, acquire a dignity that was at first unexpected, entering into harmony, rivalry, and sometimes even conflict with the score composed for the film.
Between fake bad music created by a competent composer and real bad music appropriated in its raw state from the popular muse, between an impressionist nocturne for large orchestra and the authentic concerto of crickets and frogs, artificial music does not necessarily win out over the natural kind.
This according to “La musique prise dans le sujet, élement materiel du film et la musique composée pour le film, élément formel de l’œuvre d’art” by Roland Alexis Manuel Lévy, an essay included in Atti del secondo Congresso internazionale di musica (Firenze: Le Monniere, 1940, pp. 253–256; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1940-1).
Below, two short films present an opportunity to test Lévy’s hypothesis.
Gustav Mahler’s attachment to the idea that art is a mirror of nature can be found echoing throughout his works, including performance indications that refer both to nature in its broadest sense and to specific elements of the natural world.
Yet the pastoral element in Mahler is often presented through a language of brokenness, as in the third movement of his third symphony, where the appearance and disappearance of the posthorn can also be likened to the processes of memory depicted in Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, notably the madeleine episode in Du côté de chez Swann.
This according to “In search of lost time: Memory and Mahler’s broken pastoral” by Thomas Peattie, an essay included in Mahler and his world (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002 185–98; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2002-7257).
Today is Mahler’s 160th birthday! Above, the composer in Fischleintal in 1909; below, the movement in question.
On the coast of Washington and British Columbia sit the misty forests and towering mountains of Cascadia. With archipelagos surrounding its shores and tidal surges of the Salish Sea trundling through the interior, this bioregion has long attracted loggers, fishing fleets, and land developers, each generation seeking successively harder to reach resources as old-growth stands, salmon stocks, and other natural endowments are depleted.
Alongside encroaching developers and industrialists is the presence of a rich environmental movement that has historically built community through musical activism. From the Wobblies’ Little red songbook (1909) to Woody Guthrie’s Columbia River collection (1941) on through to the Raging Grannies’ formation in 1987, Cascadia’s ecology has inspired legions of songwriters and musicians to advocate for preservation through music.
The divergent strategies—musical, organizational, and technological—used by each musician and group to reach different audiences and to mobilize action suggest directions for applied ecomusicology at the community level.
This according to A song to save the Salish Sea: Musical performance as environmental activism by Mark Pedelty (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art houses an astonishing bronze figurine, perhaps unearthed in Cyprus: a nude woman playing a pair of cymbals, standing on a frog (inv. no. 74.51.5680). It was probably the handle of a mirror, and the craftmanship is typical of ancient Laconia.
Scholars have never explained the relationships between all the represented elements, but the figurine is obviously related to ancient Spartan music, or at least to its soundscape.
We may wonder whether there is a link between the frog and the cymbals in terms of sound. Did ancient Greeks perceive the croaking as a percussive sound? In Greek antiquity, frogs seem to be associated with several types of instruments.
Since the figurine might come from Cyprus and it depicts a nude woman, it is usually interpreted as Aphrodite. However, if it is a Laconian piece of art, it seems more relevant to recognize here one of the main goddesses of Sparta, Artemis Orthia. She stands on a frog, because her sanctuary was located in the marshlands of Sparta, a place appropriate for batrachia. This place had a specific soundscape of croaking frogs and water sounds. Further, there are remains of feline paws on her shoulders; the archaic Artemis is the mistress of wild beasts.
In the sanctuary, archaeologists found cymbals and auloi dedicated to the goddess for apotropaic purposes. It may be opportune to compare this piece with Asian drums decorated with frogs, which were used to ask for rain fertility: perhaps the cymbals associated with croaking had the same function in ancient Spartan marshlands.
This according to “Croaking and clapping: A new look at an ancient Greek bronze figurine (from Sparta)” by Sylvain Perrot (Music in art XLIII/1–2  pp. 175–83)
Below, an illicit visit to the sanctuary.
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The cowboy practice of “singing the cattle down”—the night herder’s soft crooning to quiet the cows for sleep—received a new twist in 1926.
A fan letter sent to WGES in Chicago by Tom Blevins, a Utah cowman, reported that he had set up a portable radio on the range and was treating the cows to urban dance music in the evening.
“It sure is a big saving on the voice” Blevins wrote. “The herd don’t seem to tell the difference. Don’t put on any speeches, though. That’ll stampede ’em sure as shootin’.”
This according to “’Sing down the cattle’ by radio” (Popular radio October 1926, p. 615), which is reprinted in Music, sound, and technology in America: A documentary history of early phonograph, cinema, and radio (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012) p. 279.
Below, evidence suggesting that cows continue to enjoy that era’s dance music.
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