Music Changes the Way

Hum the first two notes of “The Simpsons” theme song. (If you’re not a Simpsons fan, “Maria” from West Side Story will also do.) The musical interval you’re hearing—the pitch gap between the notes—is known as a “tritone,” and it’s commonly recognized in music theory as one of the most dissonant intervals, so much so that composers and theorists in the 18th century dubbed it diabolus in musica (“devil in music”).

Now hum the first few notes of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, or, if you prefer something with a little more street cred, the “I’m sorry” part in Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson.” This is the “perfect fifth.” It’s one of the most consonant intervals, used in myriad compositions as a vehicle of resolution and harmony.

Is it possible that hearing such isolated musical components can change the way you think? An ambitious new paper recently published by Jochim Hansen and Johann Melzner in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology argues precisely that. The researchers brought pedestrians into a laboratory and played them a short, stripped-down piece of music consisting of a series of alternating chords. Some people heard chords including the tritone; others the perfect fifth. A

5 Years of The House Presents

Salon-style multi-genre music events have been cropping up across Dublin, following the lead of the enormously successful Kaleidoscope Night. Current trends are taking this model and moving towards not just multi-genre but multi-disciplinary events: Listen at Arthur’s on Thomas Street has featured poetry readings and video footage alongside its central musical performances; Phonica at Jack Nealon’s on Capel Street has combined experimental poetry and music; and Staccato in Toner’s on Baggot Street focuses on spoken word supported by music.

These events all have two things in common – their dedication to presenting a combination of acts not normally seen together, and their setting, usually small bar or lounge spaces without formal staging and with an ‘intimate’ atmosphere. The line between participants and spectators is softened if not dissolved. In this way, city-centre venues try to replicate the feel and closeness of a small community gathering or a local session.
Where the artist and the audience are equal
The House Presents, established in 2012, brings this same atmosphere out of the city centre to a smaller, closer community. Annesley House, the bar that has hosted these monthly events for the past five years in North Strand in Dublin,

Defense of Rebecca Black

There’s a pretty good chance that you are one of the 63-million-plus (and counting) people who have watched 13-year-old Rebecca Black’s video version of “Friday,” a three-minute pop number recorded in January and posted on YouTube earlier this month. Rebecca Black is a California middle school student, not a professional singer, and “Friday” was written by two men who own a vanity recording studio in Los Angeles where, for $2,000, Rebecca Black’s parents paid for a video of their daughter performing the song. The Black family expected friends and relatives to see “Friday” on YouTube, and that was about it.

Until a show about the Internet called Tosh.0 offered a bilious review entitled “Songwriting Isn’t for Everyone” on March 11, and Rebecca Black, in the manner of modern social media, went viral. Within days, “Friday” had been seen by hundreds of thousands, and then tens of millions, of viewers. Song and singer have been the subject of coverage in Rolling Stone, Billboard, Forbes, and innumerable other outlets. And like the nearly one million comments posted (thus far) on YouTube, the reaction to Rebecca Black and “Friday” has been almost uniformly hostile. “Friday” has been described as “hilariously

Remember Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell’s passing left me sad, and not just because I enjoy his music. Campbell was the first celebrity I ever met: Not only was our encounter memorable but it struck me later as an amazingly instructive lesson for how a person should conduct oneself when faced with an awkward situation.

The year was 1970, my aunt and uncle had just bought a camper, and they took my three cousins, my sister, and me on a trip to Colorado. I was 5 years old.

I remember little about the trip other than how bizarre I found it to be so high in the mountains that I felt cold in the summer and how much fun it was to sleep in a tent with the brood. And I remember meeting Glen Campbell, who at the time was not only a country music artist but also the host of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, a popular TV show my family watched every week.

One afternoon I had an urgent need to go to the bathroom, so my uncle pulled into the next service station and I ran out, alone, to the bathroom. While I was standing at

The Last Beatles Concert

It was 50 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught…wait, no, that’s not right. What was 50 years ago on Monday was the last time the Beatles took to a stage to perform a concert. It might be argued that the January 1969 London rooftop jam session was the Beatles’ last public performance, but their final concert proper was held August 29, 1966, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, the end of a U.S. tour that had been as stressful and unpleasant as it had been brief.

You can’t blame the band for wanting to get off the road. Touring had long been a well-known drag. After the Beatles had performed in Stockholm, for example, John Lennon was asked what he thought of the trip. “Fine,” he said. “It was a room, a car, a concert and a sandwich.” There’s the road in all its glamor.

The Beatles had reason to feel the road wasn’t just a bore, but a dangerous bore. The backlash in the United States when Lennon floated the notion the Beatles were more popular than Jesus was nothing compared to the angry reaction when, in July 1966, the lads seemed to snub Imelda Marcos

Remember Tom Petty

C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley both died on the same day as the JFK assassination. It’s an odd bit of historical trivia that often gets cited to show how even important markers can get lost amid earth shattering news. It might be as stretch to compare Tom Petty to those intellectual titans, but it would also be a mistake to underestimate what a beloved figure he was. That Petty died in the wake of one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history seems somehow too coincidental not to notice.

It’s an especially cruel irony, because one of the reasons why Tom Petty was so beloved was that, beyond his musical output, Petty was the rare rock star who wanted all of the attention focused on his prodigious and worthy catalog of hits. Petty’s death at age 66 might be the one time where the attention deserved to be focused on the man himself, and that’s understandably very hard to do right now.

Over the course of a 40-plus-year career, the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers experienced some of the inevitable rock ‘n’ roll drama. One of the band’s bass players, Howie Epstein, died of aview full post »

Toscanini

“You are no good.” These were not the words Gregor Piatigorsky, a nervous performer, needed to hear as he warmed up before playing a concerto with the New York Philharmonic. The man who uttered them, the conductor Arturo Toscanini, then said, “I am no good.” The effect on Piatigorsky was immediate and lasting; writing about the incident some 30 years later, the cellist remembered wishing he had “died as a baby.” Nevertheless, he kept practicing, kept striving, hoping somehow, in the brief interval of time remaining, to change the maestro’s mind. “We are no good,” said Toscanini just before the two took the stage. “But the others,” he added, “are worse. Come on, caro, let’s go.”

For Toscanini (1867-1957), pursuing perfection was a matter of conscience. Here was the right way, the only way, of being a musician; any other was simply wrong. In this brilliant biography, Harvey Sachs delineates the guiding role of conscience in Toscanini’s life. Sachs writes from a position of unimpeachable authority: The present biography is his second of the conductor, whose letters he has also edited (2002) and about whom he has written a collection of essays (1991).

Mad for music

The Best Christmas Song

Very few songs have joined the Pop Christmas Canon in the last forty years with only two at present being considered for inclusion, in my estimation: The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” and Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne.” Both differ from most of the other songs in the oeuvre by the fact that neither can be remotely called a happy song: in Fairytale, a couple wistfully recounts their unraveling relationship—and their careers and lives as well—amidst the glory around them that is Christmas in New York City. In the “Same Old Au Sang Lyne,” the protagonist runs into an old flame in a convenience store on Christmas eve and they polish off a six-pack in his car while reminiscing.

Both have had a tremendous impact on me—soon after getting married I dragged my wife to New York for Christmas Eve, looking in vain for the NYPD Choir but still managing to have a romantic holiday just the same. And well before we married I took a woman on Christmas Eve to the same convenience store where Dan Fogelberg ran into his ex-beau (yet another advantage of being from Peoria) and split a six-pack in the parking

Rock-and-Roll

Joe Hagan has written what promises to be the standard biography of Jann Wenner—standard, because it’s hard to imagine anyone working up the energy to take another stab at it. Fifty years ago, at the age of 21, Wenner founded Rolling Stone magazine, and he’s been editor in chief ever since. Thanks to the anniversary, he has lately been much in the news. Not only has Hagan’s very long biography appeared, but so has a coffee-table book, 50 Years of Rolling Stone, a slab of self-congratulation recounting the magazine’s most celebrated articles and writers, with a not-humble introduction by Wenner. He has made the rounds on the chat shows, morning and evening. HBO, meanwhile, is airing a two-part, four-hour documentary, Rolling Stone: Stories from the Edge, produced by Wenner and codirected by the gifted left-wing documentarian Alex Gibney. Altogether it is enough commotion to cause the average consumer of media to rear back and ask: “But why?”

As it happens, there are at least two answers to that question. One is that Wenner possesses superhuman powers of self-promotion. In the journalism business, it is usually the writers who leap onstage to gyrate and shimmy in hopes of

Frank Ocean Triumphs Without Even Trying

Frank Ocean offered two vital and contradictory performances in 2017. On the main stage, he once more played the guy sitting this one out—there he was, canceling headlining performances at major festivals around the world, ghosting on expectant audiences. If he did appear, he was wearing headphones, sometimes sitting down, and avoiding all eye contact: He didn’t cultivate a crowd so much as gather eavesdroppers. This is a maddening standby of his, one his fans depend on even as it denies them a chance to be near their hero. Without his serene indifference to stardom and any of its attendant demands, he wouldn’t be their hero.