Monthly Archives: December 2013

Happy new year: Auld lang syne for your first class of 2014

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The Punjab restaurant in Covent Garden. I was passing here on 31st December 2012, according to my photo albums. It has very special memories for me.

To download the song, either right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) the player above and select ‘save audio as’, or right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) this link and select ‘save link as‘.

I couldn’t resist it. If you happen to be doing class tomorrow, maybe you’d like this.

2013 was, in the end, a wonderful year, so there’s nothing I more I could wish for than for 2014 to keep going like that, thank you very much. Happy new year!

10 years on – some thoughts about blogging, baking, copyright and music

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I first started blogging in June 2003. I had nothing much to say, but I had just discovered blogging – the word and the concept – and it fascinated me. I wanted to play around with the medium, so I set up a blog in Movable Type (I now use WordPress), and off I went.  A decade later, here are my thoughts on blogging, copyright and music.  The article was prompted initially by Lucy Williams’ article in the Guardian on 4th December, Academic blogging: a risk worth taking?   Lucy had her blog plagiarized several times without attribution or payment. Yet she also says that blogging has a role to play for early career researchers and doctoral students. What follows is my long, long defence of why I wouldn’t use blogging for that purpose, and what I do think it’s for.

Blogs, diaries, journals, calendars, notebooks

I am writing this on a train, with my phone turned off, in longhand, without a computer, disconnected and private. That is a useful coincidence, since notions of privacy, the personal and the public are central to what I want to say.

I keep several diaries. One is purely chronometric, so to speak, just a year planner: it tells me when I am going to do what, and when I have done whatever that was, it provides me with quantitative data about my life. It’s a week-per-view from Wilkinsons. I think it cost £2.50. I mirror that on Google Calendar, where I also have a special calendar for conferences and seminars I might want to go to.

My favourite café in Russell Square. Scene of much doctoral thinking.

My favourite café in Russell Square. Scene of much doctoral thinking.

Another is a research diary for my PhD that I write as a blog that only I can see, using MAMP and WordPress. I opted for a blog because blogging has become an easy habit, and WordPress the easiest way to exercise it. In the Doctoral School at the Institute of Education, two lecturers in particular advised us to keep a research diary for similar reasons: one day, you may be asked to explain how or why you did something, and if you’ve kept a diary, you’ll know, easily.  That diary – the research one  – is private, because I am honest about my failures. For example, I don’t ‘get’ Foucault in a way that I don’t want to make public. Sometimes, I am delighted to find that I am not alone in those feelings, and in that respect, the research diary is valuable for recording doubt, almost more than certainty.

A third diary is my personal diary, which I write in a black faux leather A5 notebook from Wilkinsons,  like a Moleskine but nearly 5 times cheaper. This is very personal, yet I have changed from using it to  whatever feelings are on the surface on a particular day, to a kind of ‘gratitude diary’. Read Martin Seligman on happiness, and you’ll know why. Counting your blessings, however small, is a guarantee of joy, and the strongest buffer against depression. Diaries of ‘how I feel’ I have always thrown away, but those which were prompted by a demand to know what is good and worth giving thanks for, are a joy and encouragement when you read them later. Superficial streaks of what went wrong are there, coded in ways that only can decipher.

Sunset over the Thames by Wandsworth Bridge, December 2013

Sunset over the Thames by Wandsworth Bridge, December 2013

Then there is my camera. On research visits, I take pictures as part of an ethnographic record to help remind me of the materiality of places and events that are easily overlooked or forgotten, or become important later.  Pictures can expand fleeting, forgotten moments like a balloon. In personal life, the journey from here to there may be marked by a sunset over the Thames that is what remains in memory, even though this is only a fraction of the whole.  I recently met a researcher who asked me where I studied, and then immediately asked ‘What does it (i.e. the Institute of Education) sound like?’ (I had to think about it, which is surprising considering I wrote this post about listening to rooms) It was a genius question, that reminded me of a conversation that David Hockney described:

Oh yes! I was driving someone up here and I asked them what colour was the road. They didn’t answer. Ten minutes later, I asked the same question, and they saw it was different. Later he said, “I’d never thought what colour the road was.” Frankly, unless you’re asked the question, it’s just road colour. You have to look and ask questions like that about what you are seeing all the time.  [Source:The Many Layers of David Hockney, Martin Gayford, Daily Telegraph, 23rd Sept 2011)

My research accumulates in Scrivener, the virtual equivalent of a room where the walls are covered with post-it notes and sheets of paper with drafts on. In here are my data, transcripts, pictures, and the  ‘memos‘, where I interact with my data, question it, write about it.

A Muji note-book

A Muji note-book

Then there are my Muji notebooks which I carry everywhere (and that’s what I’m writing this in). One notebook for everything that happens on the hoof – writing things down, lists, addresses, lecture notes is, I’ve discovered, better than having several. I can find things by a mixture of memory and association. I found a phone number once by remembering that I was reading a particular book in a plane in November. I found the notebook (they have a start and end date on the front) and leafed through until I found the bit where I had made notes on this book, and there, just where I knew it would be, was the phone number. The to-do lists remind me of the pressures that are easily forgotten about under pressure (ironically).

So what is this blog, then? 

This blog represents what I am happy to leave in the front room with the curtains open. It  is largely the opposite of what I write elsewhere. It is personal, but also about  things I do not feel have complete ownership of. And indeed, when I first started blogging, that’s what blogging meant. It was was a log of what you had navigated on the web, a travelog of places visited.  Rebecca’s Pocket  – one of the first blogs in the world – is for me still the site that defines the form. That concept has changed now, and blogging has become a ‘platform’ for self-publishing, rather than the pointing-to and sharing of information that is out there already. So when I read that blogging is important for networking and early career researchers and so on, I get nervous. To me, this isn’t what blogging should be: it adds too much weight and responsibility to the writer. The whole point of blogging, for me, was that it gave you the opportunity to jot down some stuff quickly, in less time than you would ever spend writing an article. Because they’re personal, you don’t have to conform to a style guide and a company policy, and worry that your blog posts are being judged as if they were journal articles (see Katie Wheat’s post on a similar worry). 

Why the long silences? 

Bridlington, September 2011

Bridlington, September 2011

You may have noticed that I have written less since 2011. Some of that is just because of lack of time, but it is mainly because with my PhD work, much of the research I do is by agreement with those who participate in it, confidential, and for the purpose of the thesis, not to be broadcast on my blog. I have no right to use this data or my thoughts about it, on a blog. Neither am I, frankly,  going to give stuff away that I have spent so long and hard thinking about. I don’t mind sharing, as I did last year, anecdotal stuff about playing for class. The world would be happier if playing for class was easier, and I am passing on what others have generously passed on to me. But research? No.

There is another reason. I’m deeply mistrustful and cynical about the way others use the web. I have seen grown professionals scrape data and writing from the web (so easily done, with copy and paste). Among teachers and students there is sometimes a Wild West mentality. We are too busy to think, too pressured by targets to create meaningful, original work, so anything goes. Lucy Williams’ article on the unattributed appropriation of her work should be a warning.

At the same time, others profit from ignorance, repotting the public domain in containers that earn a few dollars every time. If you know what is available from free sheet music sites like the IMSLP, then you don’t need to buy this stuff again from people have done no more than to stamp their name and a copyright notice on a scan.

The good news…

So what do I feel happy to give away this year? The answer is music of a certain kind, like the pieces I’ve posted in my Advent Calendar. They use public domain material and for the most part, I am using skills that are so well rehearsed that I don’t have to think hard. I might be pleased with some of the ideas, but they are largely reproductive, not creative, a distinction that I owe to a brilliant seminar with Paul Dowling.

Yet discourse about music often sanctifies the act of making music as if it were above every other kind of artisanal work. As for composers? Well, they’re superhuman, aren’t they?  In his wonderful book published in August 2013, Why Music MattersDavid Hesmondhalgh says that “[Howard] Becker showed that the idea that cultural works emerge from brilliant individuals us at best overstated, and at worst mistaken” (Why Music Matters, p. 127-128).

I saw this at the museum of broken relationships

I saw this at the museum of broken relationships

Having spent the last few years making large-scale recordings, I’m particularly aware of the collective nature of music making that Hesmondhalgh and Becker are talking about. It demands different kinds of labour from different people, or sometimes from the same person. If music did not, at some times, come to me as easily as touch-typing, I would not be able to do it at all. Yet typists do not attempt to copyright what they have typed as a ‘performance’ of a text. The comparison may be extreme, but I think the comparison is valid in quality, if not degree. After the floods in Prague in 2002, most of the streets near the river had to be taken up and re-cobbled, by men using such admirable skills that I could have watched them for hours. Yet they (I presume) did not expect to get royalties on their performance of cobbling every time someone walked over them.

By comparison, on November 1st, the copyright term in recordings was extended from 50 to 70 years, so that Cliff Richard may now continue to benefit from records he made over 50 years ago, for example. Lord Younger said that the changes “should help ensure that musicians are rewarded for their creativity and hard work throughout their careers”. My question is this: what is it about other kinds of work that we so readily assume (unlike with music) that the labour and skill has been exhausted and paid for at the time it was done? What is it about Cliff Richard’s (or any musician’s) work that he should continue to demand rent from it 50, 60, 65 years after it was done?

I believe that if we are to make sense of intellectual property (and there is a lot about that term that doesn’t make sense – see this article from TechDirt) then we have to question the basis on which different varieties of arguably similar labour are deemed to be inherently of such different value, that some can demand 70 years of royalties, while others are paid up in full (and not very well) at the point of execution.

The goodness of music – a question 

And so to the final question: if music is so inherently good, then why is it so rarely given away as a gift? Hence the Advent Calendar. They’re only sketches, and rough round the edges. Some are better than others. Why charge for them? At a time of symbolic gift-giving like Christmas, what is the difference between making a cake for someone (which costs  time and money, and demands expertise) and making a piece of music?

The difference is perhaps that, at worst, someone might take one of my pieces and in some way make money out of it (i.e. depriving me of the possible profit), whereas  you can’t do that with a cake (except maybe once). And the problem here, as I see it, is not that making music and making cakes are essentially such different things, but that cake-making retains some of the generosity of spirit that the music industry has taken out of music. It’s expecting that music should always make money that’s the problem.

Cakes I made once

Cakes I made once

For the same reason, I cannot watch things like Masterchef. As one of the loveliest people I know once pointed out, what is discomforting about those shows is that they insult everything that is personal and heartfelt about preparing food. To make food for someone is a much more personal act than to make music for them. To have that act judged on its external, observable signs rather than on the spirit in which it was done (or to take away the meaning of the act in the first place, by making the preparation of food into a solo competition) represents for me everything that is vacuous and vile about TV production.  It seeps cruelly into everyday life, as people charged with organizing MacMillan coffee mornings turn them into ‘Great British Bake-Off’ style events, where colleagues can vote for the best cake. Count me out.

Christmas Carols offer a particularly odd example of the problem. What kind of music could be more deserving of a ‘gift’ status in the world than carols whose music is in the public domain and intended to give praise to God and bring communities together? Yet the world of carols is no less subject to issues of copyright than any other, and I have had to steer very carefully away from them in so that I could give away as a free download something which is largely in the public domain and socially produced in the first place.

I am not saying that musicians should work for free, or that no-one should ever be able to profit from their original ideas. But I do think that to slap copyright notices on everything, however little labour or originality there may be in it, as if everyone who points a camera at a monument (for example) is now an author, is an exploitation of copyright that should be outlawed.  Happy new year!

Advent calendar day #26: Those extra fouettés and turns in 2nd – Good King Wenceslas

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Sir David Wynne’s ‘Boy with a Dolphin’ near Albert Bridge, festively adorned on Christmas Eve 2013

To download the song, either right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) the player above and select ‘save audio as’, or right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) this link and select ‘save link as‘.

It was only last year that I realized that St Stephen’s day, celebrated by the carol Good King Wenceslas (who looked out ‘on the feast of Stephen’), is the 26th December.

To reflect real ballet classes, where enthusiasts ask you if you would mind playing some music for their fouettés and turns in 2nd after the class has officially finished (I never mind, by the way), here’s a coda-by-request that appropriately celebrates St Stephen’s day, the coda or afterthought to Christmas, if you like.

If you’re wondering why I chose to put a pedal G all the way through this piece, it’s because I have a theory about fouetté music, based on two of the most famous ones in the ballet repertoire (Don Quixote and Black Swan) that the less the bass moves, the more of a stable (harmonic) floor the dancer has to turn on.  It also ‘desaturates’ the harmony, so to speak, so that your attention doesn’t get distracted, either as performer or audience.

Hold on tight and fly… 

I took the picture above on my way home from class (where I got the idea for this post). I’d never really stopped to look properly at this sculpture, but I’m glad I did. There’s so much élan, and vitality in it. Looking for details of the sculptor and the proper name of the statue, I discovered from A view from the mirror – A taxi driver’s London, this great quote from Sir David Wynne, the sculptor:

“the boy is being shown that if you trust the world, the thrills and great happiness are yours… if one meets a dolphin in the sea, he is the genial host, you the honoured guest.”

What more could you wish for 2014?  Happy Christmas, and a thrilling, happy 2014 (and now this class really is over). Here’s a sequence of pictures of the statue including some from angles you can’t see from the street.

A christmas carol ballet class day #25: Révérence – Quem pastores

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Today’s the last in my advent calendar for 2014, in which I’m giving away downloads of Christmas carols for ballet class.

Tooting Bec Common, Christmas Day 2013

Tooting Bec Common, Christmas Day 2013

To download the song, either right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) the player above and select ‘save audio as’, or right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) this link and select ‘save link as‘.

Happy Christmas. I’m using the term ‘révérence’ in the American sense of ports de bras/cool down, rather than a florid obeisance to real or imagined audiences.  I like this tune when I think of it as Quem pastoresdislike it if I think of Jesus, good above all other, the hymn that the tune often used for. 

This Advent Calendar has been a meditation on music and copyright. You might not have noticed it except as a little recurring theme in the posts, but it’s there. I was going to write a whole post on that subject  today, but my head hurts, I’m tired, and it’s Christmas. But another day, I will. Meanwhile, happy christmas, happy dancing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A christmas carol ballet class day #24: Grand allegro – Tomorrow will be my dancing day

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Glorious SW17

Glorious SW17

To download the song, either right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) the player above and select ‘save audio as’, or right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) this link and select ‘save link as‘.

I wish I had hours to spend arranging this gorgeous carol into a proper grand allegro, but I don’t. But here’s a sketch, all the same. Happy Christmas eve. I’m off to class.

A christmas carol ballet class day #23: Coda – While shepherds watched their flocks

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It’s Christmas. Have a free christmas carol for your class. Today is for some fouettés or allegro. It’s probably too fast – but you’re probably not doing class anyway.

Covent Garden today. Just where you don't want to be two days before Christmas.

Covent Garden today. Just where you don’t want to be two days before Christmas.

To download the song, either right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) the player above and select ‘save audio as’, or right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) this link and select ‘save link as‘.

Not a lot to say about this really, except that it’s a coda. There’s some really ropey timing in the percussion in the third quarter, but I’m too tired and lazy to correct it. Have a rest during that bit.

 

 

A christmas carol ballet class day #22: Jumpy thing in 3, A Great and Mighty Wonder

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It’s christmas. Have a christmas carol for your ballet class on me.

Chocolate mousse. Today's lunchtime great and mighty wonder.

Chocolate mousse. Today’s lunchtime great and mighty wonder.

To download the song, either right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) the player above and select ‘save audio as’, or right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) this link and select ‘save link as‘.

The German title of the tune for this is Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, and it’s gloriously old and strange in metre. I’ve ironed it out a bit, so that you at least get 4  phrases which are in six – the real tune goes a bit more all over the place than this. If you want to pin it down to something in terms of a dance rhythm, it’s a cross between a polonaise and a baroque hornpipe, with a little 2/4 in the middle on the line “Repeat the hymn again”.

The tune was harmonised by Praetorius (there’s a link to a file in mensural notation from IMSLP here). Praetorius’s version is quite definitely ‘in 2’, though though the editors of Ancient & Modern (2013)  have restructured it in 3, as a means of making sense of the cross-phrasing (or whatever you should call it) in the middle.  It’s songs like this that make you realise that being ‘in 2’ or ‘in 3’ is a very woolly and remote concept as soon as you get away from dance music of the last couple of centuries, though there is something very dance-like about this tune.  I am very tempted to redo it in 2 after all, except I don’t have time.

Although my arrangement is just a bit of pastiche renaissancery, I do love the excitement of this kind of sound, and the strangely logical irregularity of its rhythms. That love is due entirely to the work of David Munrow, who people who were around in the 70s will remember as the person who enthused an entire generation with early music. We loved him and his music-making, and the novelty of it all. What a legacy to have achieved in about a decade. At the height of his success, very young, he committed suicide, which left us all in shock. Whether we knew him or not, we felt like we did.

I don’t know how popular this hymn is any more for actual singing, but the tune is well known. I’m including it because jumpy things that are in six have a pleasing form to them that I’ve written about in another post about sixy things, which happens to be one of my favourite posts ever on my own blog, though I say it myself.

 

A christmas carol ballet class #21: Ding dong merrily on high

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A bell tower from a tower. Merrily on High. Ding Dong.

A bell tower from a tower. Merrily on High. Ding Dong.

To download the song, either right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) the player above and select ‘save audio as’, or right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) this link and select ‘save link as‘.

I wish I could do this to all Christmas carols, but you just can’t (although, as I tried it out on ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, it felt familiarly awful, and I think someone has done it, and achieved the same terrible result).  Learning about this carol on Wikipedia, I discovered the wonderful new (to me) term ‘macaronic‘, used of language that mixes up words of different linguistic origins. At first, I thought it was a faintly off-colour, recent term like ‘spaghetti Western’ but it turns out it’s probably 14th century, but related to pasta/dumplings nonetheless. 

I guess you could say this is a kind of macaronic music, because it mixes styles in a rather crude way. I owe the idea for the second piano part in the second half to the last movement of Milhaud’s Scaramouche. Any apparent bitonality might sound vaguely Milhaudesque, but is in fact an emergent feature of me not really knowing what I was going to play next.

For the real enthusiast, here is a version for 2 recorders, perhaps more suitable for your least favourite tendu exercise.

A christmas carol ballet class #20: Little solo – Hark the Herald Angels Sing

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To download the song, either right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) the player above and select ‘save audio as’, or right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) this link and select ‘save link as‘.

Here at last is Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Doing this stuff makes you realise things about songs that are not so evident on the surface – like finding out the sofa you ordered won’t actually go through the front door, even though it looked quite small in the shop. This is one of the most christmassy of christmas carols, and yet there’s not much you can do with it, except sing it like it’s supposed to be sung. Unless, possibly, you turn it into a little pizzicato ballerina variation, because no variation is complete without three little fairy rings on a celeste, and HTHAS has lots of that kind of thing.  I still think it’s quite funny that the first line of this in the original is “Vaterland in deinen Gauen”.

A christmas carol ballet class day #19: Little jumps – I saw three ships

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Put a Pansy in it - best campaign of the year

Put a Pansy in it – best campaign of the year

To download the song, either right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) the player above and select ‘save audio as’, or right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) this link and select ‘save link as‘.

I never quite saw the point of this carol – who saw three ships, exactly? And where? And what’s that got to do with the baby in the manger? And if you’re looking after a baby, what are you doing standing by the sea watching ships come in? It sounds a bit like one of those songs you make up in the back of a taxi after a few too many Stellas. But it’s a nice little jiggy thing, all the same.