Showing posts from 2013

2013: The year I discovered Bandcamp

2013 is the year I discovered the joys of being a fan on Bandcamp. 

Back in 2009 I signed up to my Spotify account and was flabbergasted. I was listening for months upon end. Music I hadn't heard in ages, all the holes in my record/CD-collection (some 1500 items), rare recordings that I never had the chance to acquire and so on. At that time I was still buying quite a lot of CDs and occationally files on iTunes (and, I admit, did some illegal downloading as well) but that gradually came to an end. I realized that often I bought a CD, put it in my shelf, and started listening to the album on Spotify instead. A bit later Wimp came along and complemented the few shortages in the Spotify catalogue (mostly obscure Norwegian contemporary music for my case), and then I completely stopped buying music. I happily pay the subscription fee to both companies. Even though I've been ranting quite a bit about the low payouts to artists, I see streaming as mostly a positive thing and I guess …

Being present at a meeting via Skype? Yes it is possible

This fall I've been following a course in digital history at the University of Umeå, learning about text mining, interactive maps, Gephi, 3D models and all sorts of fancy-pancy stuff. I've written about this before here and here. I was supposed to go to Sweden this week to attend the final meeting of the course, but family business forced me to cancel the trip. But I'm still present - via Skype.

If you study this picture closely, you'll see me on the wall there to the left, next to Helena, another participant skyping in from Rome. And while you're at it, also marvel at the hi-tech stuff we're learning about.
Going all 3D and fancy in @elbergstrom's project presentation.
— Finn Arne Jørgensen (@finnarne) December 9, 2013
I even held a talk, presenting my course project so far (Intellectual property and rights management for the digital historian). It was rather odd to present not being able to see the audience (my screen was…

Lecture notes on Fan Funding

The Internet has always held lots of promises for musicians. In theory they can communicate directly with the fans, using social media sites like MySpace (a failure), Bandcamp (more successful) or Facebook. The problem though, has been turning likes into bucks. For a long time prescence on the Net was almost synonymous with putting up your music for free, getting virtually nothing back. But now things are changing.

In a lecture for my music history students today, I spent some time talking about so-called fan funding, or crowdfunding for music, and this post is a summary of some of the points from this lecture.

Crowdfunding, a paralell to the crowdsourcing that has given us for instance Wikipedia, has been around for some years, but has mainly had its impact in software development and technology. The arts are slowly coming to grips with the potentials. A great success story which often is told is about Amanda Palmer, one of my favorite artists, who in a campaign to f…

Last words to Lou Reed

One of the most significant voices in the history of popular music died today. Lou Reed proved again and again that music is not about technical brilliance, but about timing and control. Lou Reed's musicality was as present in the silences between the notes as in the notes he sang. His matter of fact, speech like presentation provoked the most enormous emotion. His simple melodies contained the most intense beauty. Rest in peace, Lou Reed.

Review of Lera Auerbach - The Blind

A review I've written about Lera Auerbach's opera The Blind (based on Maurice Maeterlink's play) was published today at, a Norwegian website for performing arts and culture politics. In the review I conclude that Auerbach's work is closer to the music theatre than the opera, especially in this perticular staging of the work where the spectators are blindfolded throughout the performance. This makes the story of the drama explicit, but some times maybe also overshadowing the experience of the music. The review is in Norwegian, and the English translation of the title is "A Sensory Experience"

A brief history of popular music #4 (1980s and 90s)

The futuristic 1980s and 90s
A decade of flashy colors, yuppies, bad hairstyle and gated snare drums. The 1980s is also the era of the catchiest of pop tunes. And of course - it is the decade of the music video. The Buggles' Video Killed the Radio Star is from 1979, but no song says "welcome to the futuristic 1980s" better. The singer Trevor Horn is also one of the star producers of the decade, being the hand between super hits like Frankie Goes to Hollywoods Relax (1983), Yes' Owner of a Lonley Heart (1984) and Grace Jones' Slave to the Rhythm (1985).

During the first years of the decade, synth pop dominated charts with their melodic danceable futuristic electronic pathos filled beat based music. One among many possible examples: Depche Mode - Shake the Disease from 1985. 

The 1980s is also the decade where the band gradually disappears from the charts, and was replaced by machines. We see it in the Depeche Mode video (3 guys with synthesizers, one finger each, o…

A brief history of popular muisc #3 (1970s)

1970s: From arena rock to discoBy the end of 1970 the hippie era is definitely over. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin both dies in 1970 only 27 years old, and are followed by Jim Morrison (at the same age!) in 1971. The 1970s are characterized by really big money entering the music business, stadion concerts, flashy costumes, glam, prog, disco, punk, synthesizers and the album as the primary aesthetical unit.

The ultimate album? Pink Floyds The Dark Side of the MoonIt might be a bit stupid to post a youtube-video with an excerpt from an album to use as an example of the album as an aesthetical unit, but there you go - it's the Internet. LPs of between 35 and 45 minutes become the symphony of rock and pop in the 1970s. On an album a band or a singer can demonstrate a more or less coherent unit of songs and musical ideas, as the composers of the 18th and 19th century did in the symphony. It is no coincidence that the length of a symphony and an album is approximately the same. 45 minute…

A brief history of popular music #2 (1950s and 1960s)

1940s continued: Frank Sinatra is the first pop idol
Stardom and idols are cruical to pop muisc, and Frank Sinatra was the first. Here he is, young and damn handsome in 1944.

1950s: Rock changes the face of music Rock'n roll is the first true youth music, and even if there were music rebellions before - street fights and youthful recklessness became integrated in the rock'n roll aesthetic.

The first rock recording is supposedly Jackie Brenston's rockin and for its time sexually explicit Rocket 88 from 1951 (one year before the first recording of Rock Around the Clock!).

In 1955 there were street riots between reckless youths and police in Oslo in front of the ticket office for a Louis Armstrong concert. The same year the film Blackboard Jungle (featuring the now famous Rock Around the Clock) had its premiere in the US, and Armstrong wasn't so much to riot about any more. Next time Norwegian media reported about youth riots were at the Norwegian premiere of the film. S…

A brief history of popular music #1

In a lecture next week I will give a brief introduction to the history of popular music. I'm considering using the Guardian's "Timeline of modern music - ALL GENRES" as a starting point. In 45 minutes I have no chance what so ever to cover anything else than the very basics, so giving the students this infograph will hopefully inspire them to look further into the layers of history. The Guardian is proving again and again that they are very good on music history.

In a series of posts I will present the examples that I will discuss in my lecture. 
1910s: Varieté artists as recording stars
The first gramophone star of Norway - Adolf Østbye - made his first recordings in 1904.

Some of the recordings were popular songs, other were jokes or stories that Østbye performed on his variety shows. This marvelous video shows one of Østby's 7'' gramophone records being played on a period record player. 

And of course - I'm going to mention Caruso, the first milli…

Some videos of Nordheim for solo instruments

Nordheim's "Flashing" is well established in the modern accordion repertory, and virtuoso Ksenija Sidorova's rendering of the piece is just amazing.

Cello Clamavi - Nordheim's marvellous work for solo cello, played by Brian Carter.

Trombone There are no versions of theHunting or the Return of the Snark out in the videosphere, except for this  jazz quartet version of the Hunting of the Snark by the group NYNDK:

Cello, Trombone and MIDI piano The work Vevnad combines much of Nordheim's ideas for trombone, cello and the piano, and reveals what is probably a fascination for Colon Nancarrow.

ViolinPartita for Paul (1985) in a great version, which also displays Nordheim's often used 15 seconds delay technique the last movement. Emma Steele on violin.

The last movement of Partita for Paul, "Individualisierte Höhenmessung der lagen," played by Peter Herresthal:

Tre voci This video of the chamber cantata Tre voci also highlights some of Nordhe…

Arne Nordheim's ballets

Arne Nordheim loved working with dance, and between 1962 and 1979 as many as eight ballets were performed to his music. I say "performed to the music of" because he didn't write all of the pieces specifically for the ballet format. The ballets are:
Ivo Cramér: Katharsis, 1962Ivo Cramér: Favola, 1965 Robert Cohan: Stages, 1971, to the music of Coloraizone og WarzawaGlen Tetley: Beaches (Strender), 1974, to the music of Response and SolitaireJiři Kylián: Stool Game, 1974, to the music of SolitaireJiři Kylián: Ariadne, 1977. A concert adaptation of the ballet is known as Tempora Nocits (1979)Glen Tetley: Greening, 1975, to the music of the 1973 orchestral work with the same nameGlen Tetley: The Tempest, 1979
Cramér's Favola from 1965 is a funny piece. It is a TV-ballet, commissioned by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (the first large scale TV commission that Nordheim got), also featuring voice and electronics. The work is made in the best 1960s experimental style,…

Battle of the killer B´s

The letter b has always meant something special in music history. You've heard about the three Bs: Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Or was it Berlioz? I prefer Brahms, so I stick with him. We can also add be-bop, booze and... bass guitar. Well, you get it. But who is best of the Bs? This has been the great debate among music historians for decades - even centuries.

I recently got introduced to a service called Topsy, named after the elephant who never forgets. Topsy harvests social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and tumbldr and indexes them. You can then search for any term, and the site gives you beautiful statistics and graphs. For trend analysts it must be marvelous. Drink of choice? Coca Cola: 25 million tweets. Coffee: 125 million tweets, barely more popular than tea at 103 million. Water: 185 million tweets. I go for water. 
So I asked Topsy who was the greatest composer, and this is what I got:
The winner is - Bach!

I was rather surprised to see that with 4 million tweets, B…

Post 1980 canon #9: Sound art

Sound art traces its history back to Dadaism, Kurt Scwhitters' Ursonate and the craziest of John Cage's ideas. But as a major art genre, it's a child of the 1980s and 1990s when first tape and then computer technology got so affordable that it could more easily be incorporated in an art work.

Wikipedia teaches us the following:
The earliest documented use of the term in the U.S. is from a catalogue for a show called "Sound/Art" at The Sculpture Center in New York City, created by William Hellerman in 1983.
The distinction between music and sound art has been the topic of many fruitless debates over the years. As a general rule of thumb, sound art is site specific - it is conceived for a specific place at a specific time, while music in its nature seeks to transcend time and place. A work of music seeks to exist outside place and time.

No sound examples this time, but I will use Arne Nordheim's Gilde på Gløshaugen (2000) as illustration in the lecture. The l…

Post 1980 canon #8: Noise. Merzbow and Lasse Marhaug

The conservatives just won the Norwegian elections, so what's better soundtrack for this mardi bleu than Noise? I have chosen Merzbow and Lasse Marhaug as examples.

Of all the technology driven new music forms of the 1990s, noise is one of the most difficult to frame.  Socio-historical context, musical form and technology shares many similarities with ambient, but where ambient is floating an subtle, noise is in your face, load and brutal. Noise is sort of the black metal of electronica, but played in an art gallery. Noise embodies the ideas from the now 100 year old futurist manifesto L'arte dei Rumori in its most extreme form.

Even if this is a kind of anti-aesthetic anti-hero music, the genre has its pioneers and stars. The biggest star and one of the founders of the genre is Merzbow from Japan. In noise music the "work" is more in the performance than in the composition. This is partly the reason for the enormous output from some of the noise musicians. Merzbow…

Post 1980 canon #7: Acousmatic and soundscape - Smalley and Westerkamp

Following the tradition from musique concréte og Elektronishce Musik, the respectively French and German flavor of electronic music of the 1950s, purely loudspeaker based electronic music reemerged in the 1980s. A second generation of composers, many having studied with pioneers like Schaeffer or Stockhausen (but rarely both) redefined the genre. Where the original electronic music came out of the broadcasting studios, the new wave of electronic art music gained a foothold in the universities and academic institutions. And - for the first time this music gained a strong foothold in the UK. Trevor Wishart and Denis Smalley are among the great names of this second generation of what they now called acousmatic music, soundbased music for loudspeakers.

Personally I don't like the term "acousmatic" - it feels sort of exclusive (what does it mean?? Do I have to get into the whole Pythagoras/Schaeffer-thing?). I much more prefer "ear candy music." It is the ultimate h…

Post 1980 canon #6: New spectacle: John Adam's Nixon in China

Post 1980 canon #6: New spectacle - John Adam's opera Nixon in China (1987)
In the post WWII years most composers stopped writing operas, and the additions to the repertoire were few. For some reason this suddenly changed in the late 1980s. According to Paul Griffiths, the Metropolitan didn't premier a single new opera between the late 1960s and the late 1980s, but then suddenly they started commisioning new works on a regular basis. A similar history can be found in Houston Grand Opera, where Nixon in China was premiered. According to Wikipedia, the house opened in 1954 but didn't start premiering works before 1974. Until 1987 only 5 operas were premiered. But then suddenly the house start premiering one or two new operas every year! Texas were obviously a hot seat for opera in the 80s and 90s, staging the world premiere of Nixon in China in 1987, Phillips Glass' Planet 8 the following year, Meredith Monk's amazing Atlas in 1991 and several highlights from what ca…

Post 1980 canon #5: Ambient: Biosphere's Substrata

Post 1980 canon #5: Ambient: Biosphere's Substrata.

Ambient doesn't start with Biosphere, of course. The really canonic work in this genre is Brian Eno's Ambient 1: Music for Airports from 1978, but as a genre ambient was detracted by synth pop and EDM throughout the 1980s. In the 1990s ambient reemerged, and mysteriously Norway was one of the major actors. This is why I have chosen "Silence" from Biosphere's Substrata as example work. The album was released in 1997, and this coincides pretty well with my own discovery of ambient.

Ambient is interesting because it grew out of electronic pop music, but sees itself sort of as a prolongation of the tradition from the electroacoustic music of the 1950s and 1960s. It also draws heavily on John Cages writings on silence and environmental sounds and Steve Reich's process pieces like Drumming or Music for 18 Musicians. Biosphere's "Silence" can be interpreted as a direct allusion to Cage's influ…

Post 1980 canon #4: Postmodern zapping: John Zorn's Cat O' Nine Tails

Post 1980 canon #4: John Zorn's Cat O' Nine Tails (1988)

No one were more eclectic and embodying postmodernism than John Zorn, and no "classical" work were more postmodern than Zorn's string quartet Cat O' Nine Tails, written for the Kronos Quartet in 1988. Hearing the piece is like zapping on the TV, jumping from one thing to the other with no apparent connection between the parts. The piece is full of katzenjammer, jokes, film music snippets, cliches, contemporary music cliches, eerie beauty and poking fun. But the cat in the title is no fun at all - it's a nine tailed whip. So '90s! But mainly this piece is all about having fun with music.

Post 1980 canon #3: Kitsch and new age: The Piano

Post 1980 canon, part 3: Michael Nyman's music from The Piano

Kitsch is expressivity's worst enemy. In the music from the movie The Piano Michael Nyman crosses the border over to the dark side, but the piece is still canonic. This is one of the few "contemporary" piano pieces that has worked its way into the amateur repertoire.  You'll find youtube videos of this piece with several hundred thousand views. I heard tons of young girls stumbling their way through this music in the 1990s. But is this an example of minimalism gone bad, musical new age, new romanticism, or just pretty music?

Michael Nyman de la pelicula EL PIANO from Cortos Chèveres 2 on Vimeo.

Post 1980 canon #2: Irony, simplicity, eclecticism: Louis Andriessen's M is for Man, Music and Mozart

Example number two of the post 1980 canon: Louis Andiressen's M is for Man, Music and Mozart (1991).

This piece is a part of Peter Greenaway's really really odd movie Not Mozart, commissioned to the 200 year anniversary for Mozart's death in 1991 (is that really something to celebrate?). The movie yells "so 90's!!" but music, choreography and scenography has qualities that transcend the somehow disturbing video effects.

This piece is a great example of the postmodern 1990s eclectic treatment of historical subjects, 1990s irony, simplicity and minimalism. The piece has a mixed identity: it is classical music (scored for brass, double bass and piano), and it is not classical music (because of the jazz singer and the lack of string section). It is funny and witty, but still serious. It is both grotesque and beautiful. And it is a very cool piece of music. The dancing (and the dancers) are great too.


Post 1980 canon #1: The composer-performer. Meredtih Monk and Laurie Anderson

Welcome to the first post of my attempt to establish a post 1980 contemporary music canon.

Meredith Monk (1942-) One of the things that have been characterizing the last three decades of contemporary music is the composers-performers. There have off course been composer-performers before (from Chopin to John Cage), but traditionally the compositions these people have made were published with a general audience in mind. The music of for instance Meredith Monk is so linked to her own personal style that it is impossible to separate composition from performance. I am not saying that Monk invented this, but I think she can serve as a good example of this trend.

Monk also serves as example of the crossover artist, who exists very close to the popular-music-art-music divide. She has been releasing her music on ECM, but still keeps herself on the art-music-side.

As example work I have chosen Dolmen Music - one of the awesomest pieces of music to be conceived in the 20th century. I'm awar…

A contemporary music canon post 1980

Love it or hate it - most general music histories are centered on canonic works. As a music history teacher I need these canonic works for my survey courses. Of course I know that this imaginary museum of example works has made lots of damage on the musical repertoire. It has reduced history of music to a string of master works, overshadowing the complexities and wealth of music history. But we still need canons. They provide a common ground. They make it possible to discuss culture and provide the starting point for making comprehensive reflections on the past

For my music students at NTNU I want to discuss how we can construct a canon for the post 1980 era. Most general histories of music end their storytelling some 50, 70 or even 100 years ago. This year sees the centenary of Stravinskij's Rite of Spring, one of the last works to get into the permanent collection of the musical museum. But what about our recent past? What to include? What to exemplify? What has happened in musi…

Some thoughts on Digital Humanities

Do we see a similar type of shift in the humanities as what happened in engineering and science in the 1960s?

We've been living in the digital world for a while. Computers have been around for more than 60 years, and they've been rather present in our everyday surroundings for the last 30. Even the Internet as we know it dates back 20 years. Still we talk about new digital tools and new media. We aslo still find people that are intimidated by digital technology. Personally I find this odd. Computers are neither something new, nor much to be afraid of.

As I´ve been talking about before, the introduction of computers in science and engineering was one of the major shifts of the 20th century. It wasn´t just a quantitative shift (more calculations and faster number processing), it was a quatitaive leap. It made possible new types of questions and new ways of thinking. It paved the way for entirely new fields and new ways of doing engineering and science. It defined a new era. T…

Conference report: EMS13, Lisbon

Ah. Lisbon. What a beautiful city! And a tile makers heaven, right Mike?

Honestly, it felt a bit odd to go this historic and pittoresqe place to discuss recent research in electroacoustic music studies inside the ultrabrutalist concrete and glass walls of the Culturgest. But I guess that's the charm of studying something so closely linked with modernist aesthetics.

The EMS conference this year was more about networking and getting updated on what's happening in the field than coming to great new theoretical insights. But I learned a lot - especially that there are many people out there thinking many of the same thoughts as me, and that's both reassuring and disturbing. Damn, I thought I was more original! Luckily there were other saying the same.
As mentioned in the symposium report from Leicester a couple of year back, there are lots of things going on with regards to tools and methods for analysis of electroacoustic music. OREMA is getting stronger slowly, and I renewed …