Category Archives: Music

Notta Comet at the Mile High House

Notta Comet

Notta Comet (Eli not pictured)

Saw Madison’s band last night in the basement of a rowhouse, one block west of Temple University. We were easily thirty years older than the other hundred or so people in attendance. No one called the cops on us, because they thought we were the cops.

The sound in the basement was quite good. The balance was good, the drums were clear, and the vocals were not muddy.

I heard one song I hadn’t heard before. Madison said they had not recorded it yet. “The Warehouse Song”. One of their songs that sort of dares the audience not to get impatient, as they drift into jagged pulses of sound traded between the three of them.

The closing was excellent. “Colonial Authorities”. A thumping riff, nearly moshable. Again they played with expectations, stretching out the ending beyond the expected rave-up. An ending Beethoven would have loved.

Notta Comet Tour Blog

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Hating Arnold Schoenberg, part 3

Every composer has his aura; the aura of Arnold Schoenberg is, for me, the aura of subtle ugliness, of hatred and contempt, of cruelty, and of the mystic grandiose. He is never petty. He sins in the grand manner of Nietzsche’s Superman, and he has the courage of his chromatics. If such music-making is ever to become accepted, then I long for Death the Releaser. More shocking still would be the suspicion that in time I might be persuaded to like this music, to embrace, after abhorring it.


From Ivory, Apes, and Peacocks, by James Gibbons Huneker, 1915

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by | October 11, 2014 · 2:56 pm

Hating Arnold Schoenberg, part 2

Never before had music been composed that had begun to abandon the precepts of tonal harmony employed through out time in all civilizations, the very laws of nature which allow music to express harmonious and positive emotions. With these compositions, Schönberg began to compose music that was not completely based on the harmonic laws of music: natural, vibratory frequencies of nature, and instead entered into emotionally dark regions that no music dared express before….This is the music that will fill the homes and motion picture theatres of America during the last half of the Twentieth Century. It is music of terror, suspense, and fear.

From Arnold Schönberg: The Father of Negative Music

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by | September 22, 2014 · 5:37 pm

Tonal quagmire of the twelve-tone row

“Even if the decline of musical art, the dissolution of the tonal system, came about of necessity, it would never be valid to conclude that such necessity implies progress. Granted: because the capacity for artistic hearing has declined steadily, the natural foundation of the major system has ceased to be recognized and has no longer found creative expression in works of art. But to infer from this that the tonal quagmire of the twelve-tone row still maintains any connection to Nature–what a short circuit in thinking!”

Oswald Jonas, Introduction to the Theory of Heinrich Schenker

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by | May 27, 2014 · 9:34 pm

Surrounded by Sopranos Singing of Flowers

We saw Anthracite Fields on Saturday. Composed by Julia Wolfe, performed by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, with the Bang on a Can All-Stars. Parts of it were remarkably good, parts of it were interesting, parts of it were goofy. Five movements in sixty-five minutes, a chorus of more than one hundred voices, and an eclectic orchestra: Cello, double-bass, percussion, guitar, and one guy playing clarinets of all sizes, from soprano to bass. Several people doubled on spinning, clicking bicycle wheels. The pianist was, at least visually, a Tiger Mom fantasy. Perfectly made up, and wearing a simple floor-length gown of whitest satin. The fantasy collapsed when she played–at times she was drumming her fists on the keyboard like a furious two-year-old, or slapping at the keys like she was playing a bongo.

The experience was intended to be immersive. We were led to our seats by someone toting a miner’s lantern. Behind the orchestra was a large screen, and images played on it throughout the piece: miners’ faces, simple graphics on how coal is formed, and the visual equivalent of white noise.

The chorus was choreographed. Some of which worked, and some which didn’t. In general, moving their feet worked, and moving anything else looked goofy. When the men marched forward to the edge of the audience, it had a powerful effect. When various folks waved a hand in the air, it looked somewhat desperate.

For me, the most thrilling moments were in the fourth movement, when the women’s chorus spread out among the audience. The music involved a long list of flowers that were grown in the mining towns. The women chanted the flower names. We were surrounded by sopranos singing of flowers, and the altos were off in the distance, their flowers floating in from far away.

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Nothing more than intervals

I am learning music theory, nearly half a century after learning to play music. Currently, I am learning to hear melodic intervals. Hit a key on a piano, and then another key. The distance between those keys is the interval.

Music theorists are expected to recognize twelve intervals, everything from a Minor Second–think The Jaws Theme–to an octave–the same note, one octave higher or lower. (Technically, there are thirteen intervals, but Unison is simply the same note repeated.)

The typical way to learn intervals is to associate each interval with a piece of music. There are websites with suggested song lists, here, for example.

It is novel to group songs by something other than genre, instruments, vocal range, etc. Who knew that Greensleeves, Smoke on the Water, and O Canada shared the same interval between the first two notes of each song?

Ideally, I should have twenty-four melodies in my mental catalog: Twelve for the upward intervals, and twelve for the downward intervals. (Unison is the same note twice. If I get stuck, the first two, no, three notes of the First Movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.)

Picking melodies has been harder than I expected. Easy: Amazing Grace, Upward Perfect Fourth. I know the tune well, it is the first two notes of the song, and helpfully, the second note is long, imitating the way that intervals are played. Compare that with another popular melody for the Upward Perfect Fourth, Here Comes The Bride. Bride starts with a long note, Here…., and then three short notes in succession, comes the bride. Instead of the la, laaaaa that I want, it has laaa, la-la-la.

Other easy interval melody choices: Star Wars Theme, Upward Perfect Fifth, Over the Rainbow, Upward Octave.

Some intervals are much tougher. Fewer songs start with some intervals. The Upward Tritone choices are scarce–Maria, The Simpsons Theme. Fewer choices exist for downward intervals–songs go up at the start more than they go down.

Lastly, there are songs I desperately do not want in my head. The best example I have for a Descending Perfect Fifth is Feelings. It is a cuckoo, an earworm, the ex-friend I never want to think about again.

I can’t escape it, now. I’ve tried The Flintstones Theme, Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing, but in the back of my mind, it is still out there, the song I know I am pushing away.

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