This fun video considers the elements of space and time in music – no specialist knowledge required to understand it:
Long fascinated by the crossover between music and language, I was delighted to come across a dissertation by Jonathan Pearl entitled Music and Language: The Notebooks of Leoš Janáček. The Czech (or more accurately Moravian) composer was taken by the idea that character was manifest in prosody and strove to come up with melodies for his operatic characters which were true to the music of their speech.
Jonathan Pearl does a much better job of explaining it – either here in the full-length dissertation or here in a shorter version (look for Eavesdropping with a Master: Leos Janácek and the Music of Speech). Very interesting reading!
Illustrating this idea with a single YouTube clip is tricky so instead let me embed a clip of one of Janáček’s most famous non-operatic works – the final movement of his Sinfonietta, conducted here by Pierre Boulez. Listen out for great trumpet section work at 5:00:
Better late than never? Having been on holiday I’m a little late with this short write-up of an Edinburgh International Science Festival event but, as it was so good, here goes.
Dr. Mark Lewney is a physicist and a guitarist. Last year I went to his excellent Rock Guitar in 11 Dimensions and reviewed it here. This year he presented Music: An Explanation by a Guitar Hero – a look at the physics underlying sound/music. Without wishing to spoil the show for those who may have the chance to see it later, let me say that he took us on an engaging journey from the sine wave – through the world of harmonics (overtones), the importance of the fundamental, 4th and 5th notes, the short step from there to the pentatonic scale, which is used in folk musics across the world – notably in the blues.
He finished the talk with some thoughts on music’s purpose in our evolution – the topic of much debate – such as from 2:24 – 7:03 in this video). One thing is clear, though: prosody (the music of speech) matters – it’s not just what you say it’s how you say it.
This was an excellent, funny and informative presentation. This cross-curricular take on life is, I feel, at the heart of CfE.
You can see Mark Lewney in action in YouTube videos here.
I forgot to mention one of the most elucidating facts of the evening – and one of the simplest.
When non-musicians ask musicians why orchestras need conductors, there are many common answers:
- apart from waving the baton, the conductor is the person who has led rehearsals and is in charge of the interpretation
- orchestral players can end up sitting many metres away from their colleagues and it’s hard to hear – conductors can ensure the overall balance and timing of the group
- the conductor is the fore-runner of drummer and mixing desk
However, Mark Lewney’s audience participation illustration was much better and more direct and more memorable. He asked the audience to clap to a beat which, having started, he left in our hands – with out eyes shut. The timing soon began to drift. He asked us to open our eyes and sync with him. The timing improved. Closing our eyes again, the timing deteriorated. Opening them, and following his lead, we were back in sync. The reason? Light travels approximately 874,000 times faster than sound*. Relying on the sound, we had to wait for it to bounce off the back wall of the hall. Syncing to the beat, we were exactly in time.
* Speed of sound
- 343.2 metres per second
- 1,236 kilometres per hour
- 768 miles per hour
Speed of light
- 299,792,458 metres per second
- 1,079,000,000 kilometres per hour
- 671,000,000 miles per hour
Many thanks to all who participated in the East Lothian Showcase Concert last night in Edinburgh’s Queens Hall. The pupils really enjoyed the venue and the performance. Thanks to James Leslie for the use of his video-camera tripod and to Don Ledingham for agreeing to operate the video camera:
Thanks to David Gilmour for making the audio recordings featured below. Perhaps pupils – especially those for whom this was the final Showcase – would like to download these mp3s as an iPod memento.
Many thanks, also, to Julia Wilson of NBHS who supplied the group with 20 clip-on tuners. Holding the tuning of 34 guitars (204 strings) under the glare of stage lights is a nightmare and these were a great help.
Thanks, finally, to David Ryan (S6 @ Knox Academy) for agreeing to lead the group. You’ll see this particularly in Bohemian Rhapsody, where a nod helps the group navigate some severe changes of tempo and time signature.
Well done to all involved.
p.s. bereft of software to divide the original video into three separate ones, I downloaded some nifty, free software here.
One of the themes of this blog, if such a thing could be said to exist, is the endeavour to see music in its wider setting (society, culture), through exploring links with other disciplines (language, science). In that regard, I’m always grateful to receive invitations to talks in Edinburgh University’s Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (IMHSD).
- Segment – the individual sounds which make up speech
- Phoneme – the smallest segment is known as a phoneme e.g. the word bad has one only syllable, but three phonemes: b – a – d
- Suprasegmental – a phenomenon can be described as suprasegmental when it takes place over two or more segments e.g. prosody, tone, stress.
- Tone – there are four tone phonemes – high, low, rising, falling
- Quantity – there are three lengths of vowel – short, medium & long
- Voice Quality – there are two voice qualities – modal (normal voice) and breathy (somewhere along the journey from whispering to normal speaking)
This was science presentation at its best: great guitar playing; comedy; conjuring; audience participation; information presented in a stimulating way; enthusiastic response in the Q&A; the feeling that science is about you, your life, the universe in which you live and, most excitingly of all, the idea that some of the mysteries of the universe could be solved within our lifetime (well, to be fair, I think he was addressing the many younger members of the audience..). On that note, I was pleased to see a pupil there, with his dad, and to discover that he had already been at another event in the festival.
Starting with a very clear explanation of the world of sound, vibrations, acoustics, amplification etc., Dr. Lewney’s talk went on to explore: dimensions; spacetime; the origins and future of the universe and string theory. Rather than describe content here, let me direct you to Dr. Lewney’s entertaining and informative YouTube videos all of which, I feel, are tailored made for the pupil who feels all learning to be connected:
Highlights of a similar talk in Japan:
The Physics of Rock Guitar:
Cool Acoustics Part 1:
Cool Acoustics Part 2:
Cool Acoustics Part 3:
Dr. Lewley’s lovely Ibanez guitar
had been airbrushed by Jim Fogarty. It features pictures and equations of Albert Einstein and Max Planck which you can see close up here.
This festival, I feel, is one of Edinburgh’s best – and possibly underestimated – events. It is also the greenest, in terms of booking: one visit online; one e-ticket number entered into my phone’s notepad; no printed matter!
For the record, I have been to two other events: The Mind is Somewhere North of the Neck and Seven Deadly Sins and
have tickets for two further events: Because God Made It That Way – Paul Dirac and the Religion of Mathematical Beauty in Fundamental Physics and The New Intelligence: Working Memory.
PE meets Physics meets Maths meets Music:
Always a source of fascination, Radio 4 is launching Vox Project – researching the oldest instrument on Earth – the human voice. Listeners/readers are invited to send recordings of their voice, engaged in one of various comparative tasks, to the researchers at UCL. The one which particularly interested me (and possibly many of you) is the difference in one’s voice when teaching as opposed, say, to chatting to friends. Schools are full of digital recorders now so why not get involved.
The site also features:
an interesting article entitled Why do human voices sound the way they do?
I’ve said it before but I’m often struck by how important our voices are in teaching and how little we really know about them. Or is it just me?