Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

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Archive for the ‘music’ Category

RIP, Mary Travers

Posted by hyperpat on September 17, 2009

Mary Travers is now gone, finally succumbing to leukemia at age 72. But far from forgotten. With her partners Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow, the group practically re-defined folk music, made it not only appealing to a very large swath of humanity, but added a richness and vibrancy to the genre that perhaps was lacking prior to their advent. Anyone who grew up in the early to late sixties were influenced by them, even if they didn’t listen to their music, as the group also made their songs into a very effective weapon against social injustice, prejudice, and war.

I have all the group’s albums, and all of their solo efforts. I still play them, listening to at least something by them on a weekly basis. I probably know all the lyrics to just about all their songs, and will often find myself singing them. I don’t think I can say the same for any other musical group, past or present, except perhaps the Beatles, who in their own, very different way, were just as radical and influential.

I had hoped, perhaps, for one more album, one more concert from them, but alas, such is not to be. I am left with my memories and collection of albums, and that will have to do.

Posted in Daily Happenings, music | Leave a Comment »

The BBC production of Broadway: The American Musical

Posted by hyperpat on October 19, 2007

Watched this over the last several nights. Once again, the BBC proves that they produce excellent material. The analysis of what’s happened on Broadway over the last 100 years is both insightful and nostalgic. Ninety percent of the various productions they cover in detail, from Oklahoma to West Side Story, will bring back fond memories of what truly qualifies as real entertainment. These are true classics. And the few they cover that you might not remember were often groundbreaking works that had great influence on later works that you definitely will remember. The portraits of the various great composer/lyricist teams like Rogers and Hammerstein are fascinating. And I defy someone to watch this and not end up singing along with a least a few of the songs. A must watch.

Posted in documentaries, music | Leave a Comment »

A True Human Invariant

Posted by hyperpat on February 16, 2007

Every human culture and society has music. It seems to be hard-wired into the human brain, our genetic structure, and the human voicebox is one of the most remarkably versatile organs in nature. But why should this be so? What survival characteristics are enhanced by music, that it should be so deeply embedded? After all, it doesn’t seem to be helpful in putting food on the table (but see below), or building a shelter, or anything else you can directly point to and say “This helps us survive as a species”. Except perhaps courtship. Music can be used to communicate to others your availability and desirability as a mate, and is clearly used in this fashion in some other species. In fact, a large proportion of the songs that are produced deal directly with our mating desires.

But most people are not great singers or instrumentalists – and listening to some of the contestants on American Idol, I would think that some of the ‘singing’ done there would actively turn off any potential mate. Very few can write a song. If only a very small part of the population can produce, in one fashion or another, something pleasing enough to actively attract others, then it’s hard to see how music can strongly effect mating choices and thereby enhance survivability.

Perhaps we need to look at some of the other effects music has.

Now one characteristic of music is rhythm, and the typical frequency of rhythms present in almost all music is close to the normal human heart rate. Some studies have shown that the heart rate adjusts itself to be close to whatever the ‘beat’ of the music is. What most people consider to be ‘relaxing’ music has comparatively slow rhythms, similar to the heart rate when ‘at rest’. The converse is also true – music with accelerated rhythms produces a quickening in the heart rate. Right alongside the heart rate effect is the apparent effect on brain rhythms, which seems to follow a similar pattern (and leading to some claims that playing Mozart will increase your child’s intelligence).

One strong item which derives from this is the ‘synchronizing’ effect between the music and the actions of the person listening to it. People are not normally very good at accurately timing their actions – typical is perhaps getting within 10 – 20 milliseconds of when they wanted to do something – but when trying to, say, match the timing of words in a song, most people can get a lot more accurate, near 1 – 2 milliseconds. This might be a good ability to have! Especially when looked at in terms of a group of people. Imagine a group of hunters who need to coordinate their attack on a large animal. A song with a strong beat will allow these hunters to precisely time their actions, and be more successful in bringing down their prey. This accuracy in timing is apparently due to the ability of the brain to pre-process all the needed setup for the action before it actually needs to occur, based on the repetitive nature of the beat. So here is one benefit that can actually help us survive.

But music has a whole host of other effects on the human body, from skin galvanic levels to production of various hormones and other chemical facilitators. What survival attributes these effects have is not very clear. But apparently, over our long evolutionary course, these responses to rhythmically produced tones had some benefit to the individual’s ability to survive and propagate the trait.

But regardless of how it came to be, one of the strongest attributes of listening to music is pure pleasure, in some ways akin to a drug ‘high’ (possibly this effect is mediated by the same chemical ‘triggers’ in the brain). Music is addictive and (normally, when not played at 120 db) harmless, and I for one am very happy that today’s technology allows me to get my ‘fix’ almost anytime and anywhere I want.

Posted in General, music, Science & Engineering | 4 Comments »

Stone Age Music Companies

Posted by hyperpat on August 30, 2006

When are the music producers going to get it? Now I’m not referring to the artists, but to the giant companies that package and market music.

First these companies still set both restrictive and penurious clauses in their contracts with the artists, such that the poor artist rarely sees the full benefit of his work. While at the same time, these companies insist on pricing CDs at exorbitant prices. A $20 CD, containing perhaps 10 or 12 songs, and having perhaps only one or two of those tracks that the consumer is really interested in, provides only $1-2 to the artist, costs maybe $1.50 to manufacture, and is sold to the retailer for $8-9. This means the company gets something like $4.50-6.50 in gross profit, out of which (sometimes) some portion goes to promotion of the CD. Something seems out of balance here. And the artist must kowtow to the company demands for promotional tours, publicity events, etc, and can’t just hop over to a competing label.

Then we have the head-in-the-sand attitude of the company execs about the internet. It has taken them several years to finally admit that there might be a better way to market and distribute music, and to actively support digital downloading, albeit still with lots of restrictions on copying capabilities, a limited selection of their entire vault of songs (I mean, what if you want to get some of those hits from the 1940s? Darn few available), and pricing that is still too high, although somewhat easier to swallow on an individual track basis.

Maybe sometime they will finally get hip to what people want:

1. No proprietary formats. Apple’s format is OK, but if you want to play iTune songs on something other than an iPod, you’ve got a problem. And along side of this, some people want to able to get their digital tracks in the highest resolution possible, say 320 Kbps, instead of Apple’s 128K default, especially for things like classical music.
2. Ability to make copies to any medium the user wants (CD, DVD, iPod, CreativeMP3, etc, etc.). Limiting the number of copies allowed is probably OK as a partial preventative to rampant piracy, but the number allowed must be large enough to allow for any normal use. But whatever copy protection scheme is used, it must be fully and carefully checked out that it will not cause problems on whatever equipment it is being played on.

3. Pricing that makes sense. Probably about half of the current $1/track, and with a greater portion going to the artist.

4. Get the entire library of songs online, from all artists. If this means cross-licensing between these corporate giants, so be it. But people don’t want to have to sign up to several different services to get all the artists and tracks they want.

5. Cut the garbage lawsuit crap against those who have downloaded songs, even if they have done so illegally. This does nothing but give the music industry a bad image, and there is certainly some question about whether these lawsuits are really valid, anyway. Question: you own a vinyl, reel-to-reel, 8 track, cassette, and CD copy of a particular track, have paid for each of those formats in years gone by (If you think this is something that never happens, I have examples of just this in my own collection). You now download a copy of that track from, say, LimeWire. Is this illegal? Who knows? When the RIAA goes after ‘illegal downloaders’, they don’t even ask if you have a purchased version of the download – to them, that’s not relevant.

And finally, these companies should quit complaining that their declining sales numbers are all due to rampant piracy, and start doing some serious searching for artists and material that people really want to buy.

Posted in General, music | Leave a Comment »