Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Week 14

Here is a summary of my thoughts on the reading for Week 14, the introduction of The Cognition of Basic Musical Structures.

Temperley makes the statement that music students and musically inclined people know and recognize music structure such as tone, scales, and key. They are generally agreed upon and much research has been done legitimizing each of them. Temperley wants to explore the cognition of these musical structures, meaning he wants to know how the human brain processes and allocates this musical information.

Music must be analyzed as it goes, as it swells and changes throughout and Temperley's research model reflects that. It is explained that music cognition not only requires theories and disciplines from psychology and musicology, but linguistics as well. Part of this involves studying the syntax and notation of music. Temperley's study will determine how people read, determine, and interpret musical input such as tone and key into cognitive functions in their brain. This will partially be studied by trying to differentiate between "experienced" listeners, those who are familiar with music theory, and inexperienced listeners.

It seems that Temperley is trying to nail down how different people hear the same piece of music and how their experience and cognition affects that. Interestingly, Temperley reminds us that one can sing and remember a melody if he or she hears it enough, so perhaps we innately have the ability to hear pitches and pitch changes at the least.

Temperly also explains the difficulty in studying certain aspects of music. Dynamics, for example, can be quantified in numbers and computers, but timbre is a different element altogether. The "richness" of a sound can't exactly be measured, so Temperley acknowledges this weakness. He also explains the necessity of studying one's reactions and cognition throughout a musical piece, following the "route" they take by listening to it. By taking only one part of one's understanding of a musical piece, one can only deduce a small part of the listener's reaction.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Week 13

This is a summary of my thoughts on various articles assigned during Week 13.

Counting Down to Number One by Hakanen

This article discusses the uses of music charts in the music industry. Heatseekers charts, for example, map out new artists who are picking up steam and selling a lot of records. The other charts, Hakanen argues, are a look into the music industry and its consumers. The chart itself defines what is popular in the music business. Some researchers find that music has changed society more than any other, with its uses anywhere from being played and controlled by royalty to being played and controlled by ClearChannel. Before the advent of copywright laws, there was little incentive for musicians to write their own songs, as they made more playing well known folk songs. With the popularity of radio and the phonograph, songs began to be ranked against each other, reducing the importance of publisher loyalties. This began a need for performers to get 'pay for play,' meaning receiving royalties if their songs were popular and played on the radio.

Having charts changed consumers, not only in how they perceived the popularity of an artist, but it began making individuals identify with one particular genre of music. Hakanen argues that the charts are separated into different genres to give more power to more types of music. Instead of all music being ranked against each other, this genre separation shows the consumer more popular options. Charts unfortunately reduce a complex art form into a consumable chart used for capitalistic gain.

Human-Centered Musical Studies by Stefani

Stefani proposes Music Human Rights, a code to which music and musical culture must conform. It seems to be a philanthropic idea that embodies various ideals to come together and create an inclusive and unique musicology. This musicology would call upon all individuals, those who call themselves musicians and non-musicians, to come together and produce and art that can truly be called "human." If this is the correct interpretation, I call it commendable but heady, idealistic, and farfetched. That is, unless this is a satirical article.

Analysing Popular Music by Tagg

Tagg begins the article by saying the academic study of popular music is often mocked and not taken seriously. Many academics incorrectly assume their society is exclusive and does not have room for new fields of study. Tagg argues the importance of popular music by pointing out the hundreds of new technologies that music produces and inspires. Musicology is rooted in sociological studies, and like the social science, it helps understand the behaviors and tendencies of groups of people. Tagg does point out inconsistencies and challenges in the study of popular music, such as attributing human behavior to it when there could be many other factors in play. Tagg breaks down each element of music that must be taken into account when studying it, anywhere from timbre to instrument to time period of the piece. One of the ways Tagg suggests testing theories and the moods music convey is to take two pieces with similarities and change certain aspects of them such as the key and the duration of certain notes. This way, the isolated variable can be tested. Through these studies, Tagg has come up with a strong argument for music being able to convey a certain message or feeling to the listener. He concludes by saying his method of research is a bit too overwhelming to properly teach, but he says it remains a viable method of analyzing music from a social science perspective.

Music, History, Democracy by Oliver

This article chronicles a music conference in 1989 that interestingly had to separate culturally due to scheduling conflicts and room conflicts. Despite fascinating papers on popular Nigerian music and Hungarian opera, the conference was dubbed overambitious and underprepared. Perhaps this could be one of the examples showing that the study of music has not been taken seriously and that there is still much to be done for the study to gain respect in the academic community.

Music for Human Rights website

It seems this website has changed, or at least its address has. They are currently celebrating John Lennon's 70th birthday and his contributions to the world via a few albums. Interestingly, Ozzy Osbourne has recorded "How?" by John Lennon in his honor.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Week 12

This is a summary of my thoughts on Week 12's readings from Music is Your Business and on Music Markup Language.

There are four fronts of the music industry that lead to success of an artist. The first front is Artist and Product Development. This involves establishing who you are as an artist and what your image is. The product development has to do with selling music, such as an artist's website or live show sales. The second front is promotion, which means getting airplay. The third front is publicity which entails making press packs and doing research into opportunities. The fourth front is performance, which involves finding venues and touring. The authors argue that the four fronts are interrelated and can be enhanced by the Internet.

Next, the authors discuss how much the industry has changed in thirty or forty years. There are more new music releases than ever, the CD sales industry is confusing and quite possibly floundering, and the advent of the internet has made it easier than ever to distribute music, but very difficult to get noticed. The authors argue that it is easier to get on the radio now with Internet radio and stations becoming increasingly supportive of independent artists. Clear Channel's dominance of the music industry has affected both radio play and live performances, reducing the number of opportunities available to independent artists. Establishing one's career by one's self remains the way to get signed by a label. This makes sense to me, if a label representative sees that an artist is already successful, signing them would be a small risk and that artist could in theory only get bigger.

Music Markup Language

MML is a music language that helps turn MIDI into a more human-friendly language. Much like HTML, if used properly, MML can be translated into text, sheet music, and a bevy of other formats. It seems that this would help preserve music that is not traditionally notated, and I can't do anything but praise their efforts for doing so.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Week 11

This is a summary of my thoughts on Sound Tracks Chapters 1 and 11.

Sound Tracks seeks to discover and study music geographically, meaning that the authors will take an academic look at music through culture, music scenes, artist distribution, and other aspects. Connell and Gibson write that music is largely ignored in academic circles because it is nebulous. Looking back to Sacks' writing, it certainly does seem that music is one art form that is most mysterious both scientifically and philosophically. Whereas film for example has been picked apart and studied extensively, music remains an underappreciated art form in the academic world.

Part of the reason, the authors argue, is that music is an abstract and always changing entity. It is difficult to pin down and truly study because it is so integrated into our lives, whether playing over the loudspeakers in a store or playing in the background of a television show. Another part of the problem in the academic of study of music, experts say is that we as a society are quick to reveal our own musical tastes even in a way that could be described as snobbish. Perhaps since music is such a personal and special experience, it is more difficult for experts to be unbiased in their criticisms and observations of music.

The authors describe how music can be both fixed and fluid. Fixed music is through headphones, or through a speaker. Fluidity is more complex, the authors describe it as the soundwaves that music makes or the cash flow from a successful musician or the "buzz" surrounding a new artist that spreads like wildfire. The authors also discuss physical fluidity of music through actual geography, discussing the "hearths" of music, such as the southern United States and jazz. Interestingly, the authors posit that socioeconomic factors determine what type of musical 'scene' a culture might have.

Next, the authors discuss the digitization of music. Corporate conglomerations control much of the music industry and this affects the globalization of music and the way it is sold. Since these conglomerates are "infotainment" industries who control many different forms of media and products, it is argued that they do not necessarily know what is best for the music industry and that they control what consumers hear. The authors cite manufactured artists like the Backstreet Boys suggesting that there is a standardization of the industry and copious amounts of marketing to the right consumer. However, the advent of mp3s and the internet has allowed some artists to circumvent the harsh controlling ways of the conglomerates.

The digitization of recording and of mp3s started allowing artists without corporate money to make professional sounding music in their own homes or for a much less expensive investment. This affects the geography of music, this cuts down on music epicenters and spreads the source or "hearth" of music much further around. Mp3s also allow artists to distribute their music all over the world, which further decentralizes music hubs. Interstingly, house music and techno is hardly centralized at all, partially due to its lack of lyrics. Artists from all over the world including Germany, Japan, and Brazil all contribute to this type of music. This discontinued reliance on major labels and the increase of piracy of music has perhaps started a new age in music in which independence and DIY methods are the norm.