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Flatland, The Analogy of Dimensions and Spectral Composition


I've been wrestling with some language in a couple of recent posts (here and here) to make a point about the perception of sound within time.  I used the term 'time-laden' , and talked about the perceptual shift required to recognize a piece of music - more generically, a sonic event - not as a sequence of unfolding events within time, but as an architectural object that can be considered as a single, a solid.

A spectrogram  is a good visual cue.  The spectrogram shows change in frequency over time. Compared to the waveform, which shows the change in amplitude over time.  Amplitude may change over time while frequency remains constant over time.  So what remains constant if time changes?

I'm guided here by the  classic text Flatland.  A Square, habituated to life in a two dimensional world, meets a Cube.  This mysterious being can appear in the middle of closed rooms, and can speak of unnatural concepts like the 'center' of a Square.  The Cube is benevolent, and allows the Square to learn  what is known as the Argument from Analogy of Figures.  The Square repeats his lesson:

  • In One Dimension, did not a moving Point produce a Line with two terminal points?
  • In Two DImensions, did not a moving Line produce a Square with Four  terminal points?
  • In Three Dimensions, did not a moving Square produce - did not mine eye behold it - that blessed Being, a Cube, with eight terminal points?

The Cube's benevolance finds a limit, when  the Square comes up with this:

  • And in Fourr dimensions, shall not a moving Cube result in a still more divine Organization with sixteen terminal points.  

The Square is locked in jail (doodled on the back of an envelope, perhaps).  

What I have been calling Kinaesthetics, I hope will evolve into language that explains, activates, demonstrates an experience of sound that is to our casual listening what the cube is to the square. The sonic event could be a familiar piece of music.  It could be 'noise' (another word I struggle with definition).  It could be the sound of a railway engine, or the echo of landscape,

We perceive sound in linear chronology I suspect because our physiology resides in that same 'time-laden' chronology.  Fueled by metabolism, our bodies exist and consciously perceive a slice of the Present., but only the Present.  It is a Tyranny of Habituation.  But just as the Cube is a single entity viewed in slices by the 2D square, we are equally limited in our perception of objects as they unfold in time.  

Sound has a peculiar privilege in the human.  Sound impacts the physiology directly as energy waves in air.  Sound also acts as a seed object for the precipitation or accretion of meaning.  The unit of meaning is Memory - in Psychogeography I've referred to this as a Quidd.   The fundamental aspect of the universe is vibration.  Through the Principles of Sonicism (the mechanics of Transduction), sound creates a liminal interface to this vibration.



Studies In Static: memory, kinaesthetics, spectral composition

Whatever else it may be, a piece of music begins as a sonic event – energy moving as waves through air.  These waves impact our bodies directly, and are then indirectly represented to the brain through the mechanism of an ear.

Kinaesthetics is the framework around spectral composition.  I use the term to refer to aesthetics, compositional activity, theory.  Music is gesture, form, abstract structure .  The nature of both sound and physiology is to be “time-laden”, to reside with an x-axis of duration.  In order to reveal the kinaesthetic structure, both must be extracted from chronology,  What remains is a seed crystal for the precipitation of  meaning, creating an equivalence between physiology and memory.  The sonic event is interstitial, holds meaning both for the body and for memory.

What are some useful ways to talk about this individual network of meaning?  To begin with, "Something reminds me of something else".   A straightforward formula.  “Something” here refers to a sonic event, what we’ve seen as the spectrographic artifact.

“Reminds me of” can start with some basic forms of recollection:  reference, quotation and experience.

A sonic reference is straightforward repetition.  In Mozart, a hunting horn in the orchestra casts the music in an outdoors, pastoral  setting.  Gershwin uses automobile horns in An American In Paris.  Mahler brings cowbells on to the stage in the 7th symphony.  Reference requires an informed audience, sharing conventions and expectations.   I hear a cowbell and think of idyllic Alpine hiking.  Actually, I think of Mahler taking idyllic Alpine hikes, while I rest up with a pint of beer.  But someone else may associate cowbells with grinding hard labor.

Direct quotation is a tricky thing in a composition.  Collage, pastiche.  Recollection, reference.  Commentary.  The newly composed music is a framework to support the burden of the original, and to demonstrate the network of meaning .  If I quote a piece, I want you to hear everything else that goes on in my head when I thnk of that piece. Think of Berio  Sinfonia (3rd movement)  . Berio has written down what it is he hears in his head when he listens to Mahler - made explicit the network of memory and meaning.

Digital technology gives us not just quotation of a theme, but direct reference to a specific instant.  Imagine a piece called Variation on Glenn Gould playing mvt 2 Bach f-minor concerto as broadcast by Candian Broadcasting Corporation.   What if I sample a recording of a performance of Mahler’s 7th symphony?  Where do the cowbells fit now?  The network of meaning has expanded out to include the symphony, Vienna:  a whole new level of association beyond the original bells, those Alpine walks with Gustav, and  all that beer.

Memory also acquires meaning when it reminds of a time or place, something that happened while I was listening to the music, perhaps.   Who can tell what these will be, certainly nothing that has to be dramatic.  I remember in perfect detail sitting on a bus heading nowhere and listening to Gershwin Concerto in F second movement.  I’m probably thinking of that now because I mentioned American in Paris earlier.  I recall Monteverdi Vespers  on the Washington Beltway late fall evening.   A better story may be the song at our wedding (Oh Waly Waly/The Water is Wide).    Some pieces acquire a cultural weight, back to Elgar,  and the Nimrod variation now traditionally played at  royal funerals.  

What about music that is commissioned for an event – to celebrate this or commemorate that?  What if I write a piece and call it ‘Elegy for Laika” .  I would clearly be wanting you to attach some existing network of memories - whatever you may attach to the story - and apply those to my composition.   

Kinaesthetics and meaning
“Sounds like”, “reminds me of”, “makes me think of the time…”. Kinaesthetics introduces an additional valence, the formal structure of the spectrogram.   This is most apparent in the Third species of spectral composition, the ‘metanoic’.  Here, the spectrum is derived from an image which itself has meaning, memory and association.

I’ve started a series of sketches where the spectrogram of the piece is taken from handwritten notes that have  accumulated over several  years.  Is this the same as Brahms encoding his Clara motif?  I can tell the story here, but by the time the piece is done I will have scratched out all identifying material. I suppose I could just write a freeform piece with a specific aesthetic, and call it what I will.  But I want the listener to understand something of the formalism, and to respond to the idea and concept represented by the spectrum. 

Eurovision 2012 Prognostication

So let’s begin.  My goal tonight is to provide a power ranking for each of the Eurovision 2012 finalists.

Eurovision is the highest aspiration, the most longest running international broadcast.  The longest running broadcast IN THE UNIVERSE.  I won't start here with theories about Eurovision as a continuation of the Gothic Troubador tradition.  

Do I like every song entered?  No!  My ranking is based not on who I think will win, but on who I thnk should win, if I were the sole and only authority.  Here's how I decide.

 I will listen in the order that they have been drawn to perform in the finals.  I will listen to the official video.    As I listen to each song, I will secretly assign a generic ranking  of High,  Medium or  Low.  If neccessary,  I’ll go back and put a ranking within each category.  At the end of this article, I will announce my top 10.  Or rank everyone.  Or at least provide a top 3.  It all depends on how long it takes.

 I'll be blunt to begin with  - if any of you are part of the tribe “so bad it’s good”, the idea that the camp of Eurovision is why we listen.....  I have no time for you.   I apologize for the langauge up front.  But look at pictures of Coventry Cathedral  That's what Eurovision is all about.  Don't forget that Eurovision began when many cities in Europe were still rebuilding from war.  Germany and France both sent contestants to the first Eurovision.  Nothing is perfect.  

 I have no declared bias in my rankings,but I will be influenced by the bottle of scotch I am drinking.  In this case, I have opted to try Black Grouse.  Famous Grouse is my preferred scotch, a solid blend priced about the same as a decent bottle of Bourbon.   Here in the states they have targeted our cash rich society with an upscale model called Black Grouse.

Eurovision before

I’m not concerned with the bookies - they’ve had Sweden as heavy favorites for months now.  Since ABBA, really.    I’m not concerned here with the complexities of voting blocks and Eurovision Psephology. I will not tell you who *will* win, only who *should* win.  

I am using this site to watch

I will use the comments section of this post to update during the live should too.  So let's begin:

United Kingdom.  Engelbert Humperdinck.  “love will set you free”
Black Grouse is good, but so is Famous Grouse.  I’ll talk endlessly about scotch to avoid saying the obvious.  “Englebert Humperdinck”?  I’m not even listening to the song, and I know what I think.  The BBC selectors have looked back to the heyday of UK Eurovision (1978 - 1981, culminating with our astounding Bucks Fizz entry).  The BBC Wankers  have then looked for anyone still alive who could sing a song today.  I would have chosen Leo Sawyer.  Jeebus.   They could have pulled Bucks Fizz together (the real one, not Bobby G’s bastardization  Yes, this is serious).   Englebert Humperdinck?   Humpywumperdinckdinck?
But no shit, he even ripped ripped the song  off from my cousin and his friend Lizzie Emmons...  Zero points for Englebert.  Wanker. I can only blame Margaret Thatcher for having devoured the soul of our music.  Jeebus.  

Hungary Compact Disco “Sound Of Our Hearts”
Nice piano to start , make me think I’m going to hear second  rate Coldplay.  Instead the video confuses me with meaningless juxtaposition of the homeless guy and the rich guy.  I do wonder if the rich guy will have sex with the maid, but other than that I don’t follow.  Both noble poor guy and arrogant rich guy end up drinking at the end, which is cool.  The song itself is crap. 

Albania  Rona “Suus”
My pre-review favorite.  Theory is that Eurovision aesthetics derive from the boulevard. from the cafe and from the french accordian.  Music for the Flaneur.  I’m not sure why the singer has her feet in a block of wood, and I’m assuming it’s welsh she sings in, or perhaps Albanian.  But it’s a hell of a voice and a magnificent entry.   ‘Suus’ mean ‘Personal’ and that is certainly how I feel it.  I have listened to this one twice.  I ask you to consider the lyrics:

My airplane lands
On your souls’s runway without lights.
They elbow their way and rise today
Those who couldn’t live yesterday.

But yesterdays have no importance
they were devoured by stormy seas.
Oh, tomorrows won’t bring anything,
Only hope without hope and madness…

Now place them side by side with a great Wham song (Where did your heart go).

I spend my nights down on the wharf
In unlit alleyways
By the church downtown
Where Sally prays
Come down sometime
We'll share a rusty can of corn...
And listen to the radio
I love you, I love you, it says.

And these were not George Michael's best lyrics!


Lithuania Donny Montell  “Love is Blind”
First, I don’t trust a Lithuanian called Donny.  Having said that, let’s hear the song, which is crap.   But hey, he’s wearing a blindfold.  If he does that during the finals it must be worth a few points from the post-Soviet literalists.  As if recognizing that his effort is doomed, he switches styles several times and by the end sounds like a pretty catchy derivative of Hungarian Jimmy Somerville.  Still crap.

Bosnia and Herzegovina  Mayasur “Korake ti znam”
 I do think that the emerging Baltic nations are playing their cards right with an emphasis on cool languages (see Estonia later).   For what it’s worth, this title is translated as “I know your steps”. 
The preview video is awesome, she’s playing piano in a factory, on an old steam train.  I regret ruling out qualifying performances, so I break my own rule and look at the semi-final performance.  She is awesome. And I regret my crass comments about her wedding ring, which only make sense in the context of a specific American politic debate, and even then only if you share an bitter and ironic view.

Russia Buranovskiye Baushki  “Party for Everyone”
No, it isn’t a party for everyone and what on earth is Vladimir Putin doing to allow this fecking joke out onto the world stage?  Jeebus, this is perhaps more embarassing than Englebert Humperdinck.  I’m a liberal kind of guy, but whoever selected this group should be sent to whatever passes for Siberia nowadays, given climate change and that Siberia is like Florida used to be, without the hiurricanes ( the weather, not the  drinks.  I like  hurricane.). And if this was a TV phone poll, I’d find who voted for them and send them to new-Siberia.  Every last damn one of them.  This makes Putin  look like a fool. More even than my Putin joke in a break I will take after Cypress.

I already listened to this one a few days ago, and I won’t listen to it again.  

Iceland  Great Salone and Jonsi “Never Forget”
I listened to this one also a while ago and I won’t listen again.  There’s some reference to the cross screen breakup in ABBA’s ‘Knowing Me Knowing You”, but I don’t think it was intentional.  The song itself  is  like that bad Grendel movie, not the good one with hot angelina Jolie animated monster sex.  Having said that, I would definitely move to Iceland.  

Cyprus Ivi Adamou “La La Love”
Finally, a proper Eurovision song title.  I already regret the bitchy tone I started with.  This is an awesome dance track.  La La Love is just the summation of all the possible iterations of repetitious alliteration.  Ivi works us through each one.  Apparently she is 17, and has had a masterful tour across Greece.    I worry about the preview video on this one.  So again I break the rules, and I check out her semi final performance. If  she keeps the wicked drum solo in the finals, she will get several votes that would normally have gone elsewhere. nThis is a surprise for me, this Cyprus entry.  bangabanag a lalalalal lyrics do well, and she carries it off.  Ingenue.  Star this one for later.


Time for a break.  I’m somewhere between a quarter and a half done.  Without revealing the final score, I’m leaning heavily towards Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovna , and Cyprus.  We haven’t heard any of the Scandinavians yet - all favored by the books.  Neither have we heard Estonia, who to be honest I'd say ws a dead shot for the win this year. 
Here I am taking a break:

Eurovision 2 smoking

I am a pipe smoker, I rarely smoke cigarettes anymore.  My wife will be upset to see my having lit up inside (damn intertubes, but at least I took it outside to smoke).  The last time I was commited to smoking cigarettes was was in 1992.  Camel had just come out with a new format, what they called ‘Wide‘  I bought a pack, of course I bought a pack I mean ‘wide' who wouldn't try them? .    Then i took a solid dose of LSD,   and watched the cigarette turn to a tower of ash in my immobilized hand.  I never considered myself a smoker after.

As far as Russia is concerned. all I have is a half  formed limerick.  President Bush asks Vladmir what he's doing at the ranch.  Vladmiair  says “I’m Putin it in your Bush, hole”.  Heh.  That may be funnier to me than it is to him.  But I'm not responsible for that appalling entry.  You are.  


France Anggun “Echo”
Well look, hot soldier clones. I’m recognizing  a flaw in my methodology.  It is unlikely that the final performance  will  have a corps of sexy legionnaires onstage ironing, doing pushups in their underwear.  I do want to account for that in my rankings,  but I am changing  the rules  to say that if the preview video seems non-representational, I will look for the semi-final performance.

This is an issue only because of the extreme hotness of the French  entry. 

Italy Nina Zalli “L’amore e femmina”
I’m afraid to say that they lose points in my ranking simply because the English translation is so fecking weak...”Love is Female”.  What?  Jeebus.

See, this is why I love Eurovision.  I expect indifference and instead the Italians give me  a small hipped big breasted singer  stepped out of a cartoon drawn by Mussolini's step child’s grandson.  Unless it’s tasteless to say that. Damn the complexities of European poltics.  If they had called this song ‘Boom Boom”, it would be a winner.  I should  refrain from making comments based only on nation and title. Having listened, this is pretty damn good.  Top 10?  Maybe, but only becaiuse I love Amy Winehouse. 

I also love Kate Middleton, that didn't  impact my vote for Emblebert fecking Humperdumperdinck.

Estonia Ott Lepland “Kuula”
I make no bones about it, this is my favorite coming in to the evening. The piano  riff to start the song reminds me of that one song, “when I was young, I never needed any one”  that's right  “All By Myself” , Eric Carmen.  I just took a 5 minute break and listened to the song.   That is an awesome song. But what I really like  about the Estonian  song is that during the preview video, specific  Estonian words are written in a beautiful script on the screen, and then blow away like eastern European digital sand pixels.  The words are:
...vaanta (look)
...kuula (listen)
...vaikusesse (silence)
...sudamel (heart)
...varjudesse (shadows)
...sind ma oota (I will wait for you)

Well I mean who wouldn’t?  Thanks to Google Translate, not only do I enjoy a beautiful song . sung by a gorgeous Estonian guy.  But I also get to learn a new language.  That’s how you stop Coventry from getting the shit bombed out again, my friends.  The Euro-Vision.  I’m going to listen to this one again, just because I like it so much not because I expect my mind to change.

You know, for what it's worth you goddamned cynics.   I have a cassete from 1980, the year before Bucks Fizz.  I sat and recorded each song from the radio.  We didn’t have integrated stereo back then.  We actually didn't have guarnateed power or garbage pickup.  But we did have guaranteed health care.  And beautiful trains.  

Anyway.  I sat with a built in mike, next to a speaker.   That was a tape worn out .  Most treasured were the comments from Terry Wogan.  He had plenty of snark for the Eurovision, which unfortunately gave cover to the vicious snobs.  I’ll speak for Sir Terry and say that he loves every minute of Eurovision, and loves it without  condition.   I met Terry, before he was a Sir.  When he was the host for Blankety Blank.  It's easy to laugh at high principles and honest ideals.  Eurovision is the closest to Socilaist Utopia the world has  ever seen, and that's a good thing.  A bloody good thing.   I’m going to listen to Estonia again.  Call me what you will.


Norway  Tooji  “Stay”
So now we get to the Scandinavians.  People  are all into Tooji, and for sure he’s got an awesome dance group.  Reminds me of George Michael Freek, cross with a bit of Bob Fosse.  The buzzy bass synth is intoxicating, and I do keep wondering if he will take his hood off.  But it isn’t for me.  

Azerbaijan Sabina Babayeva “When The music dies”
Never discount the hosts, they always control the secret service.  Scared the Armenians out of performing this year.  Won after only 2 years competing in the contest.  Apparently building the Death Star as a hotel.  And also, Baku is the site  of the Symphony of Sirens
This is a good song.  The woman looks like either Ell or Nikki, I could never get the names straight from last year.  Should note that I love lasts year’s winning song, it often shows up on my limited rotation playlist on the iPod Shuffle - which means I am in at the gym, worked out or hungover, in  the steam room, between Beach Boys “Be true To your School”, or  “I get Around” and Stockard Channing singing  “ There are worse things I could Do”.  I've probably heard Ell and/or Nikki a thousand times since last year, and I still don't know the words.  What I'm saying is that this year’s Azerbaijani entry has a lot to compete against, and I don’t think this one has it.
I stil want to stay at the Death Star hotel, when it's finished.

Romania Mandingfa “Zalellah”
This video begins with a drum corps, a bagpipe, and a beautiful woman. Blessed be, those same elements are in the live performance.   This is surely a sentimenatal favorite.  If only they also had a hurdy gurdy.  In fact, from Romania. it is an insult to the rest of Europe that they don’t have a Hurdy gurdy.  Damn them.  Didn’t they also have all the vampyres?  But I forgive that.  This is an awesome song, and a fantastic production.  If  there is justice in the world, this will launch a spectacular global career.  But it won’t win the Eurovision. 

I confess that while writing the last 3 comments, I have been listening to Estonia. And as I run through the post for editing, I have since purchased a download  of the song. 

Denmark Soluna Samay “Should’ve KNown Better”
I watched an early round interview with Soluna, and in my pre-Estonia days, would have placed her high in the winning .   God Bless the fecking Scandinavians for taking it so seriously.  If she were playing a ukelele, I’d place her at the top.  But this is a harsh world, and I don’t think we’ll be seeing Soluna in my final rankings.  Call off the dogs,I know that pisses off the bookies.  They have been anxiously waiting for my blogs, and hoping it won’t disrupt the numbers.   Don’t get me wrong, if Soluna wins I’ll smile and appreciate her winsome nordic smile.  Don’t break my knees.

 Greece  Eleftheria Eleftheriou “Aphrodisiac”
 Definitely wins for best name.  It reminds me of  Zippy the PinHead cartoon where Zippy wanders through three panels repeating the name “Boutros Boutrosgali” .  Boutros Boutrosgali was then Secretary General of the United Nations, not a position to trivialize.  But his name hypnotized.

That is about all I can say of the Greek entry. I don’t even know if it’s good or bad for them to leave the Eurozone.  

Sweden Loreen “Euphoria”
 OK, so if we listen to the money, this is the song to watch.  Well feck that.  This is second rate Kate Bush, 30 years too late.  Also, Loreen?  I don't known  about Loreen, but the only Jolene that counts is this one (Dolly Parton).  What, you think that's unfair?  See how easy it is to dismiss convential wisdom.  When I write this, Sweden is at 2.00 while Estonia is at 81.00.  

Turkey Can Bonomo “Love Me Back”
If this is what I remember, it’s a crap song with a stupid video about slaves on a galley.
Yes.  It is.  Is there an entry from Kurdistan?


 It may be time to take another break.  I may have made an unnecessarily provocative geopolitical statement in my reference to Turkey.   So definitely time for another break.  The Black Grouse is fine, I like a blended scotch but honestly would I choose this over Famous Grouse?  Here I am: 


I was all young and Eurovisiony.  Taken by my friend Jon on the ferry back from a trip to Paris. Once I wrote a limerick The limerick remains in half written form, goes something like this:

There once were three fellows from Kings
With minds on most decadent things
They drank beaujolais
On the champs elysee
bla blabbidy blabbidy blah.

As a limericist, a writer of limericks, I am limited by my intoxication with a couplet and by my belief that a good limerick can only describe something you have actually experienced.  Hence my shrugged shoulders for 'Nantucket' limericks'.  This cuts me off from the mainstream of limericks, I know.  One of my favorite unfinished limericks goes lick this:  ” He sat in his cubicle..a Kafka-esque boobicle”  Damn dude that could really have been something.  


Spain Pastora Soler “Quedata Conmigo”
Spain in Eurovision is forever tainted by 1968 and Franco and Cliff Richard.  Cliff is a wanker, though and straight up, this is a beautiful song.  It’s also a beautiful  preview video, slow tango, bit of acrobatics.  I check the semi- finals performance.  At 2:25 is the required Eurovision modulation, most effective yet.  I have little to say about this one except I think it gives Estonia a run.    Spain won in 1968 and 1969   I’d say Spain has a song on their hands.  

Germany Roman Lob “Standing Still
Fuck the germans.  I swear this has nothing about the war.  

Aw, and then they go and put up this sweet piece of crap.  But it’s stil a piece of crap. Is that a xylophone in the background?  Let me tell you about xylophone.  I was in a band in collge, Bates college with my firend Bruce.  We had a xylophone shaped like an elephant, maybe a full octave.  A childs toy.  I used it in one show, between our real songs, I plucked out “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and sang “ Somewhere..over the rainbow..way up high.. I love you..Judy Garland..even’re already dead.”

So this one has the weight of memory against it.  Plus, everyone I've ever kissed would rather choose him.  German  wanker.

Malta Kurt Calleja “This is the night”
I have a fondness for Malta.  Because Princess Grace.  Or Monaco .  Whatever.  Keep entering, country.  Wasn’t there a Templar sodomy camp on your rock somwhere?  Or was that Gibraltar?  

 F.Y.R. Macedonia Kaliopi “Cmo I Belo"
I suppose it’s the booze (it’s always easy to blame the booze) but as I move through this playlist I am increasingly intolerant for things that are either hard to type, or that don’t make sense.  Since even Wikipedia couldn’t immediately explain what “F.Y.R” means, and since I had to type the title three times to still probably be wrong, they have a lot to overcome.  Bring it on...

Well that shows me.  this is one of the awesome songs.  Why is it awesome?  Because it holds to what I consider the true Eurovision aesthetic, which is the boulevard troubadour.  The troubadour is someone who starts their song as if they have a story to tell, time to tell it, and the means to make it real.  And then she kicks ass.  I don’t think this is a winner, but it should be top ten.

Ireland Jedward “waterline”
God bless them if they win.  No complaints here if they do. Lipstick was a better song, and deserved more than it got.   Hat tip to the Irish, who know who they think should win Eurovision.  Two years in a row, and I assume a third or more until the rest of Europe recognizes Jedward.  Let’s Go Jedward.  And goddam, you certainly aren’t Engleberty Fucking Humperdinckiwinky.

Serbia Zeljko Joksimovic “Nilje Llubav Stvar”
We recently adopted a dog.  We call him Reginald.  Reggie.  Reggie the Veggie.  Reggeriffic.  Regtable the Vegtable.  Thing is, the animal shelter people told us he was originally from Croatia.  Came over in a freirght crate or whatever with a bunch of eastern European refugees from communist  capitalism.  I don’t know how they know that, but I do know that when I told Reggie that Croatia hadn’t made it through the semi finals, he howled something that with my limited understanding of the region sounded like “Milosevic”.  I don't know which side was which, I think we bombed them both.  When I say ‘we’ I mean both my country of citizenship (UK) and my country of residence (US). 

There are some beaustiful violinists, who seem to have made it through to the final performance.  And then he starts to sing in English.  Forget it, man. Better luck next time,

Ukraine Gaintana “Be My Guest”
I have an enormous soft spot of Ukraine.  The coolest person I know is Taras Filenko, pianist, teacher, scholar.   He is from Ukraine.  When we were young together, I wrote a piece to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Chernobyl.  It was a song, text by a 10 year old girl, poet, now dead.   Sung by Soprano , accompanied by Taras on the oragan in Heinz Chapel at the University of Pittsburgh.  It’s where I learned how to say Ukraine.  Four syllables.  U-kra-i-ne.  There is a lament in the name itself.  Ukraine will always be in my top list, and the fact that they have a balls out song reminscent of KLF and Tammy Wynette only seals the deal.

 Moldova Pash Parfeny “Lautar”
Last song.  Better bring the roof down, or Englwankydumperwunkerdinck is going to win.
I invite Pash Parfeny over to our house for drinks and grilled meat.  We will have an awesome time snorting booze.  I can buy booze bettter than he's ever tatsed, here in Pittsburgh.  I will bring out my hurdy gurdy.  They can beat  hell out of the other instruments in our house. 
But they won’t be in my list for Eurovision winners.  


The List
Recall that I had a quick ranking system of High/Medium/Low.  No surprises, that turned in to a High/Everything else.  I have 8 songs that I consider High


In order of appearance:

  1.   Albania “Suus”
  2.  Bosnia and Herzegovina “korake ti znam”
  3.  Cyprus “ La La Love”
  4.  France “Echo”
  5.  Estonia “Kuula”
  6.  Spain “Quedate conmigo”
  7.  Macedonia “Crno i belo”
  8.  Ukraine “Be My Guest”


Before I choose the top three, I have to again say how appalling the UK entry was this year.  United Kingdom should be forced to sit out a year.  Scottish devolution should maintain the soverign right to submit an independent entry to Eurovision.  Englewneglebertywertyupyourbummywummy humperdinckywinckydo?  I don’t know what to think.  Except that somewhere, Vladimiar Putin is still laughing at my earlier joke.

Eurovision 3

 The best songs weren’t as hard to pick as I thought they would be

Best Songs

  1. Estonia.  
  2. Spain
  3. Ukraine


Sentimental favorite:  Romania. 


Follow comments during the final performances.








Studies In Static: Basic Building Blocks 1

In an earlier post where I consider piano music by Messiaen, I wrote:

I want to explore an aesthetic of music that is 'kinaesthetic'. Kinaesthetic aesthetics is constructed from the sonic gestures of a piece experienced within time, leading to a perceived architecture outside of linear chronology.   This would be a holographic image, combining many variant data elements into a very simple insight – perhaps into a statement like “this piece is Unfolding', or 'here the piece is Rotating'. (I cannot rule out the possibility that for some music, the simplest statement of form is that “Here there be Dragons”.)

We all the time set aside linear, chronological and time based thinking when we talk or think about music. It's a significant conceptual leap. If we talked about our lives with the same language that we use to talk about a piece of just-heard music, we would emerge from a flatland of perception into a very full and harmonic awareness of what it means to be a human being.

Gestural Spectral composition brings shape and architecture to the foreground, and is an evolution of this earlier analytical writing.  The spectrogram is a specific tool that directly modifies the rules and logic of compostion and perception.    The form of the piece is paramount, and the perception of the form is an essential part of understanding the music.  A visual representation  should guide the listener towards a perception of the form.  

This is not a casual undertaking:  it is learning to apprehend sound just a step outside of time.   This requires some basic building blocks and some agreed upon usage for fairly common terms.  The building blocks are Technical and Conceptual.

How to 'draw' shapes in sound.  I begin with squares, circles and lines.  Blocks of static and sine waves. Position on the spectrogram modifies both played frequency and temporal relationship.  Duration is length, Frequency is Height.  Amplitude is depth

The spectrogram extracts sound from time (just a step).  The Sonic Object can be recognized, manipulated, perceived.  I reduce the sonic palette to static and sine waves.  If I can describe sound as a simple shape, then I can eventually describe complex and irregular shapes like  a human voice, or a recording of Mahler's Urlicht

The sample video here shows 8 shapes.

1.  A blast of static.  A block across the full screen.
2.  A sine wave at 440Hz. A single line
3.  A Filled Square
4.  A Filled Circle
5. A Square Outline
6.  A Circle Outline
7.  Interlocking Squares
8.  Interlocking Circles. 


 The video is a screen recording from Sonic Visualiser.  The Green shape below the spectrogram is the wave form of the sound.  A waveform represents the change in amplitude over time.  The Spectrogram shows changes in Frequency. 

You can see that the circles are not precisely circular and that the squares are not perfectly squares.  This is because at each step of the way, I am required to manipulate tools, to set configuration and to manipulate output. It is difficult to maintain the pixel to pixel relationship between X and Y axis as the file transfgers between software.  For example, when I import the image file to Photosounder, I have to establish a duration in seconds that is equivalent to the pixel width of the file.   Understanding that the limitations and features of the tools I'm using will define the output -  this is no different than a composer recognizing that the construction of a piano will yield different results than an oboe. 

A workaround is to create a blank 'template' from photsounder that I know is equal to 30 seconds, then import that in to my graphics tool, do my business, and then reload in to photosounder.  I do this for larger pieces, but didn't have time for this sample.  Trust me that it has nothing to do with the underlying sound and everything to do with the display settings of the tools I'm using.  

I'm belaboring some very obvious points, and will continue to do so over more posts.   I want to be clear on the conceptual and technical language in spectral composition.  If I can understand the idea of a sonic 'Cube' as an object that can be considered outside of the linear chronological unfolding of the sound, then I can begin to consider complex forms in the same way.   

From The Archive: Five Songs, text by AE Houseman

Complete set of my songs based on text from A.E Houseman Shropshire Lad.  All available now to stream at that link, along with text.  Let me know if you want a copy of the score. 

What is memory?  I wrote these songs in 1997, and was extremely lucky to have been given a wonderful performance as part of a composers seminar at the University of Pittsburgh.  But when I think about these pieces, I don't remember my time at Pitt.  I mean, of course I remember my time at Pitt, and I remember writing these songs.  I was taking composition tutorial with David Keberle, and we talked a lot about text setting, the craft of making a singer sound good - the language sound good.  

I don't know what David is doing now.  I thought for a while he still lived in Pittsburgh.  According to Google, he has "since the fall of 2004  been a member of the music faculty in the Performing and Creative Arts Department at The College of Staten Island/City University of New York. "

But I was saying - when I think of these songs, they have the valence of much earlier pieces.  I chose these texts because I had been listening to George Butterworth.  I had been listening to George Butterworth because I was determining an identity, and the identity I wanted was a melancholic British one.  My failed dissertation included an analysis of Elgar  (Cello Concerto).  I hadn't been much exposed to the British folk song collecting tradition before the time I wrote these songs  (Vaugh Williams, Cecil Sharpe etc).  Though,  I had always heard my father singing Benjamin Britten settings of British folk songs.

The first piece I ever wrote was a trio for Oboe, Piano and Violin, while I was at Bates No particular form to the piece, 9 short movements.  One of them, variations, really a pastiche from Haydn's Il Mondo della Luna and The Foggy Foggy Dew, as set by Britten.  I thought I had a cassette of that.  I know I have a cassette of that piece, but I can't find the damn thing which drives me fucking crazy.  Maybe what I need to do is write a new piece, a piano piece where I try to reconstruct my memory of the much earlier writing. do I try to recreate the original style?  No.

And to say I wasn't much exposed is really a statement of my perspective now, where years mean less. By 1997, I had spent 5 years with Eric messing around with concertinas, listening to Steeleye Span, Ashley Hutchings and John Kirkpatrick.  By 1997, I also knew the Berio settings of folk songs sung by Cathy Berberian.  I knew Cage The Wonderful Widow.  

So what is memory?  What is it that when I think about this set of songs I wrote, the writing resides in an incorrect time?  

Rupert Sheldrake has a theory of memory that draws on his larger principles of Morphic resonance. An act repeated creates a pattern that draws like to like.  A terrible summation of the theory.  Suffice to say that when I listen to these pieces now, 15 years after, I do not hear what I expect.

I expect to hear music I don't like.  I expect to hear music that doesn't bear any resemblance to what I want to write now.  What I hear are some striking stylistic similarities.

I hear a melody supported by repetitive, neurotic attenuation of small patterns.  Little finger fidgets.  I was profligate with them back then, would keep only a couple now and make a piece. But that's the wisdom of not writing, I suppose.  I also hear dramatic distillation, where all that tapping aways reveals a simple harmonic riff as  a form of resolution. I like that shift in tone, you can hear it for example at:

Bring In this Timeless Grave 'resolves' with the text "but if the christmas eve..."
The True Lover 'resolves' with the text "oh like enough"

Now, I would  try and make the two more connected.  But the gesture, the shape is very familiar.  Strange to feel such compassion for this younger composer, to know so much about him and the directions he should have taken.  To tell him now, that this not that.

I do have a favorite, Into My Heart.  

The longer, narrative settings (Grave, True Lover) are exciting as structural exercises.  The idea of If it chance was to set the piano as a single rhythmic line, a groove.  With Rue uses chords I still come back to (second movement of Yodelling Yaks, piano concerto).  I suppose at heart all my composition is an act of pastiche (vandalism).

Apart from being the first of the set I actually finished,  Into My Heart uses a riff I wrote for that oboe/violin/piano trio.  You can hear it between the line "that is the land of lost content" and " I see it shining" (measure 13 if you have the score).  The song ends with what I can only call The Mahler Cadence.  



More from the Archive: Into My Heart (text by AE Houseman)

(Other songs I wrote with text by A.E. Houseman)

In an earlier post about George Butterworth and Morris Dancing, I mentioned a song cycle I had written with text by A.E. Houseman.  Butterworth wrote many songs from the same volume of poetry, A Shropshire Lad.  There were 5 songs in the set I wrote:

1.  Bring in this timeless grave
2.  With Rue my heart is laden
3.  If it chance
4.  Into my heart
5.  The true lover 

The performance was part of a composition seminar at the University of Pittsburgh, perhaps in 1997 but possibly in 1994.  Prism Ensemble came in for readings of student work.  The singer was Mary Nessinger, but I'm afraid I don't have a note of the pianist.  

Here is Into My Heart


INTO my heart on air that kills
  From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
  What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,         5
  I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
  And cannot come again.



From the Archive: songs with text by AE Houseman If It Chance

(Other songs I wrote with text by A.E. Houseman)

In an earlier post about George Butterworth and Morris Dancing, I mentioned a song cycle I had written with text by A.E. Houseman.  Butterworth wrote many songs from the same volume of poetry, A Shropshire Lad.  There were 5 songs in the set I wrote:

1.  Bring in this timeless grave
2.  With Rue my heart is laden
3.  If it chance
4.  Into my heart
5.  The true lover 

The performance was part of a composition seminar at the University of Pittsburgh, perhaps in 1997 but possibly in 1994.  Prism Ensemble came in for readings of student work.  The singer was Mary Nessinger, but I'm afraid I don't have a note of the pianist.  

Here is If It Chance

IF it chance your eye offend you,
  Pluck it out, lad, and be sound:
’Twill hurt, but here are salves to friend you,
  And many a balsam grows on ground.
And if your hand or foot offend you,         5
  Cut it off, lad, and be whole;
But play the man, stand up and end you,
  When your sickness is your soul.




From The Archive: Bring In this Timeless Grave (text by AE Houseman)

(Other songs I wrote with text by A.E. Houseman)

In an earlier post about George Butterworth and Morris Dancing, I mentioned a song cycle I had written with text by A.E. Houseman.  Butterworth wrote many songs from the same volume of poetry, A Shropshire Lad.  There were 5 songs in the set I wrote:

1.  Bring in this timeless grave
2.  With Rue my heart is laden
3.  If it chance
4.  Into my heart
5.  The true lover 

The performance was part of a composition seminar at the University of Pittsburgh, perhaps in 1997 but possibly in 1994.  Prism Ensemble came in for readings of student work.  The singer was Mary Nessinger, but I'm afraid I don't have a note of the pianist.  

Here is Bring In this Timeless Grave

 BRING, in this timeless grave to throw
No cypress, sombre on the snow;
Snap not from the bitter yew
His leaves that live December through;
Break no rosemary, bright with rime         5
And sparkling to the cruel crime;
Nor plod the winter land to look
For willows in the icy brook
To cast them leafless round him: bring
To spray that ever buds in spring.         10
  But if the Christmas field has kept
Awns the last gleaner overstept,
Or shrivelled flax, whose flower is blue
A single season, never two;
Or if one haulm whose year is o’er         15
Shivers on the upland frore,
—Oh, bring from hill and stream and plain
Whatever will not flower again,
To give him comfort: he and those
Shall bide eternal bedfellows         20
Where low upon the couch he lies
Whence he never shall arise.



something completely different - a day back in school

My daughter attends middle school at CAPA, the Pittsburgh public school system magnet school for creative and performing arts.  Her standard academic work is supplemented by a major, in her case the Literary Arts program.  Friday last was a 'Take Your Father to School' day.  We've done  'Take your Sons and Daughters to Work' for a couple of years, so this was my chance to go back to school. 

Today, the class is to work on capturing the intersection of the City and Nature.  We'll be going on a walk for 2 hours, through the city, stopping in a few places to sit and meditate/open up/observe.  There will be no talking.  The teacher stresses this point.  No talking.  The students all have other projects to work on - if they cannot agree to the rule of silence, they are to stay behind and work on these. They talk about inner silence, observation:  they talk about meditation as a writers tool. 

Katz Plaza
There are about 20 students, one teacher.  I am The Wanderer, prepared to be humiliated as an outsider.  On 9th street, a few feet from the school door: a group has gathered around some weeds in a crack on the pavement.  I see everyone, already writing.  

I try to spy on their notebooks.  Walter Benjamin looked for 'biology in the asphalt' when he wrote about Paris.  That was the life of the Flaneur, of Baudelaire.  William Blake lays Jerusalem atop London.  William Wordsworth considers the Thames.  Iain Sinclair breaths the fumes around Hawksmoor's cathedrals.  I remember that just a few days before I had written a blog post about the Point, about the shape of Pittsburgh as a Greek Theatre.

The sky is cerulean blue, I imagine since I don't know what colour cerulean really is.  This is dark blue and clear, shining through the top of 9th street parking lot. 

A fine day for walking.  We stop at the Katz Plaza.  Across the street,my daughter and a few other students have sat themselves at the magnolia trees.  These are bronze cast trees with hand made flowers.  I've taken out my notebook and start to write.  I see a series of pictures with her sitting there, same spot, many years,  beneath the always in bloom, never out of bloom flowers.  Same spot.  Time of year.  Always with long hair (until she cuts it).  People around her, some for long enough to see them also change.  Others for a year then gone.  Taller, gradually holding a fine full lotus pose.  The buildings at the corner are  cracked, repaired, replaced.   Re-used or reconfigured.  Book store, cafe, machine shop.  Pub, kite store, Fish and Chips. 

You could fill a gallery with portraits of the students in their various attitudes of sitting, writing, thinking.  A few walk, but it is a good looking walk, a looking walk. 

The Katz Plaza has a fountain, a messy pyramid each step with a different curve, different edges.  As water fills eventually overflows and small but steady falls for a few minutes until another forms.  Details to catch the eye.  I sit in the shade of planted linden trees, letting the leaves affect my focus until I see a larger pattern, dispersed fully over the whole, of smallest wind blown water droplets each also catching light. 

The teacher calls us together and before we walk gives  additional pointers.  The students must use concrete images in your text, fully formed descriptions.  It is as well that I am only auditing the class.  My writing resides within the landscape, but I am always hunting Quidds, looking for the vestige of memory. 

I've been in the gardens here before, but during the Three River Arts Festival when the paths are filled with aisles of vendor booths. The sense of mid-morning lull continues.  I could stop in and grab a coffee.  Maybe a muffin or a bagel.  I was so anxious about surviving the school schedule that I haven't eaten yet.  I know lunch is early, but I am dyspeptic and run my schedule to avoid indigestion and constipation. 

The students have stopped at a fountain and are settled in.  Most of them have balanced precariously and are will soon be falling in to the pool.  I walk around.  I try to get some pictures on my phone. The water masks traffic sounds.  Birds are singing, and sweet garden pixies giggle around the rhododenra.  Quickly idyllic, the shock of silence.  This fountain is pristine, water opalescent on the painted surface.  A steam vent from the underground trolley system discharges, the spaces between leaves are filled, merging, a mist.  Sunlight strikes the buildings and their modernist patterns. 

A woman suprises me.  She's wearing a round dress, turquoise with purple beads.  Her hat is wrapped and floppy.  She carries a bag across her shoulder.  She asks again "Did you hear me?"  I hadn't, and said so.  "No, I didn't".  My voice is thick, but echoes in my ear.  "Nice staff" . She is commenting on my walking stick, a piece of Sassafras wood I use to accommodate poor balance when I walk outside.  I nod. She keeps walking and from over her shoulder says "A Staff in the Left, a Rod in the Right". 

The River
I am sitting on a rock border around the landscaped edge of Point State Park.  Most of the students have gone down steps and are out of my sight.  I know they are perilously close to the edge of the water, because I have seen their appalling disregard for safety.    We are across the river from and roughly in the center between Heinz Field and PNC Park, football and baseball stadiums.

It is Wordsworth I think of,  standing on Westminster bridge.  The poetry of domes, bridges, temples. The majesty of the city at dawn.  The river moving through.  A mighty heart.  No doubt if I had taken my literature class as seriously as my daughter takes her, I would have memorized this poem and could stand to recite - looking upriver, yellow Ft. Duquesne Bridge, the Allegheny still dark and slow before any sun has risen far enough to cast relief upon the ripples

Instead, I can Google it  when I get home. 

EARTH has not anything to show more fair:  
  Dull would he be of soul who could pass by  
  A sight so touching in its majesty:  
This City now doth like a garment wear  
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,          5
  Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie  
  Open unto the fields, and to the sky;  
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.  
Never did sun more beautifully steep  
  In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;   10
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!  
  The river glideth at his own sweet will:  
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;  
  And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Several steam boats are moving around the Point, converted barges used for tourist trips and office parties.  I watch the wake and listen for the engines.  A throbbing cycle seems to change with every other one of my breaths, perhaps 8-10 seconds.  The bridge has an anvil blow each time traffic hits the joints.  I watch the choreography of a tractor mowing the sloped grass in front of Heinz Field.  Down to the trail, turn on it's axis, up to the top.  Down again.  Meticulous.  I can see the mark of mown lawn, although I guess if I had been across on the un-mown lawn it would still look manicured.  That must be a beast of a mower to sprint up hill like that, but from across the river it is a bobbly toy.

There's a rush to get back to the school from the 7th grade, who are scheduled for lunch.  The 8th graders play it cool, they have class to go to. 

I don't know what she will end up with.  25 lines of poetry, contemplating nature and the city with concrete images.  Today is  Monday when I write this, I'm sure she has a draft and is working through revisions today.  I've seen some of her  poems before with evocative descriptions.  In one, recollections of Berwick-upon-Tweed open up to talk about loneliness and imagination.  Last year, she wrote a poem that read like a collage of all her places, all her times, set to describe who she is now.  My daughter sent that in a voicemail to her former Waldorf teacher, who I can only imagine felt an equal range of emotions.   My daughter, like me, is attached to place, routine, building grooves that keep the world in place. 

We are allowed a recess on the roof, which is on the 7th floor and makes all previous worries about water edges seem overblown.  I had been looking forward to this, a new perspective, but the  view is not what I hoped for.  I'm probably not looking carefully enough.  My daughter and her friends sit speaking fast, quiet and incomprehensible things to each other. 

From the Archive: another Houseman poem

(Other songs I wrote with text by A.E. Houseman)

In an earlier post about George Butterworth and Morris Dancing, I mentioned a song cycle I had written with text by A.E. Houseman.  Butterworth wrote many songs from the same volume of poetry, A Shropshire Lad.  There were 5 songs in the set I wrote:

1.  Bring in this timeless grave
2.  With Rue my heart is laden
3.  If it chance
4.  Into my heart
5.  The true lover 

The performance was part of a composition seminar at the University of Pittsburgh, perhaps in 1997 but possibly in 1994.  Prism Ensemble came in for readings of student work.  The singer was Mary Nessinger, but I'm afraid I don't have a note of the pianist.  

The sweetest music is reserved for "Oh Like enough...".


The lad came to the door at night,
    When lovers crown their vows,
And whistled soft and out of sight
    In shadow of the boughs.


‘I shall not vex you with my face
    Henceforth, my love, for aye;
So take me in your arms a space
    Before the east is grey.


‘When I from hence away am past
    I shall not find a bride,
And you shall be the first and last
    I ever lay beside.’


She heard and went and knew not why;
    Her heart to his she laid;
Light was the air beneath the sky
    But dark under the shade.


‘Oh do you breathe, lad, that your breast
    Seems not to rise and fall,
And here upon my bosom prest
    There beats no heart at all?’


‘Oh loud, my girl, it once would knock,
    You should have felt it then;
But since for you I stopped the clock
    It never goes again.’


‘Oh lad, what is it, lad, that drips
    Wet from your neck on mine?
What is it falling on my lips,
    My lad, that tastes of brine?’


‘Oh like enough ’tis blood, my dear,
    For when the knife has slit
The throat across from ear to ear
    ’Twill bleed because of it.’