January 21, 2013 § 3 Comments
Last summer I began what I hoped would be a ‘series’ of posts on my research workflow. A busier than expected semester (which seems to describe all semesters!) prevented me from continuing this series, so instead I’m doing a three part series on research workflow using the iPad. Part one is on reading, part two on maintaining a bibliographic/research database, and part three on writing.
Over the semester my iPad has become my device of preference for research. I have not even brought my laptop to the university in the past few months. I also use it in meetings, in the classroom for lecturing, for marking, and to update my website. Here I will limit to discussing research workflow. Note that most of this research workflow can be undertaken with an Android tablet, as most apps are also available on that platform. I’ve not used an Android device, so am unable to comment on the specific differences here.
Aside from my applied research (performance/sound installations), my research mostly involves reading and writing. I really like physical books, but my preference now is to do all of my reading in electronic format, ideally with a PDF with embedded text or OCR. My first post on this blog explored the benefits and drawbacks of reading on an iPad. I still agree with most of what I wrote then, so here I’ll talk about specific tools I use for reading and getting notes and highlighted text into my bibliography/research database.
Goodreader is my main tool for reading and annotating PDFs. iAnnotate PDF also works well (I’m going to try it out for paperless grading this semester with its handy stamp tools. UPDATE: tried it out for marking. It works fine, but I went back to Goodreader after a couple days as I like the file management workflow better), but I’ve gotten used to and like the Goodreader interface. I keep a folder in my Dropbox account (shameless referral link) filled with all of my ‘to read’ articles. Goodreader syncs that folder to the iPad.
When I open an article to read, the first thing I do is use the tool to crop the margins so that the text fills the screen. These crops do not change the file itself, but are applied to viewing all pages in the document. Then I turn on the highlight tool. All menus disappear except the top right corner, which provides a box to change tools or to turn pages. To highlight, simply run your finger across the text. If I need to make a note, I just change tools.
Once I have read the article, I choose ‘email summary’ from the menu at the bottom. This scans the document for any text I have highlighted and notes I have made puts it in an email. I usually just email it to myself and then add the text into my bibliographical database later. After that, I move the article out of my ‘to read’ folder and into another folder. When I get the chance, I move it to my main research storage folder. More on storing and organizing PDFs next time.
The Kindle app works very well. It syncs how far you have read across devices and is easy to highlight. To highlight, just hold your finger in place momentarily where you want to begin highlighting and drag to where you want to complete. It is as easy as working with Goodreader. Your annotations can be accessed from your Kindle management website on a page called ‘your highlights’. It updates very quickly. I just copy the text from that page and paste it into my bibliographic database.
Kindle does have a couple downsides:
- Not enough books have real page numbers. That makes citations more difficult. Too often I find myself having to use google books to track down a real page number.
- There are too many extra words included when copying your highlights from the website into your database. I put an example of this in another post.
- Despite paying similar prices to physical books, Amazon has set things up in a way where they are just lending you access to the book. I’m a big proponent of digital legacy, and I think there is little chance I’ll be able to open my Kindle books 25 years from now. That means the book will need to be repurchased, and the highlights will be lost. However, the convenience might be worth it. (And if you look, you can find ways to convert Kindle format to a DRM free PDF for your own digital legacy, bearing in mind that in most places it is prohibited by law to do so).
- The main drawback of reading with a tablet is that you spend more of your life looking at a backlit screen, which is not ideal. I’m thinking about picking up a Kindle Paperwhite when they become available in Canada so at least some of my reading can be done on an e-ink screen (the light in this one is frontlit, not backlit). This one has a touch screen for (relatively easy) highlighting, whereas the other Kindles are an absolute pain to highlight text with, and competing products like the Kobo are useless for academics. UPDATE: I now have a Paperwhite and have used it on a conference trip, read a couple of books, and started using it to read and markup a book manuscript for editing. Pros: it is easier on the eyes, and is lighter and smaller for long reading sessions and reading on the plane/train. Highlighting is easy enough. Cons: typing notes is not very responsive. I’m just using one letter as a reminder when adding editing notes.
Next time: Research and Bibliographic Database
December 26, 2012 § Leave a Comment
‘What are your top 10 jazz albums?’ That’s the question my brother-in-law asked me a few weeks ago. So I’ve obliged and tried to pick list. Note that this list reflects what I’m most into listening to right now, so is prone to change. This list isn’t a ‘most influential’ list or anything like that, and is not ranked. I have added a couple notes on each album and embedded a video. Enjoy!
John Coltrane “A Love Supreme” (1965)
Perhaps a cliché pick, but it’s still incredible and I feel like I pick something up every time I listen to it.
Miles Davis “E.S.P” (1965)
Miles with the ‘second classic quintet’.
Medeski, Martin & Wood "Last Chance to Dance Trance (Perhaps) Best of 1991–1996
I tried to avoid compilation albums on this list, but I’ve made an exception. MMW plays with an interesting mix influences and can (at least in concert) move from grooves to break down those grooves into something more open. ‘Chubb sub’ live.
Pat Metheny Group “The Way Up” (2005)
This Metheny/Mays album length composition has space for improvisation, but is quite prescriptive compared to much of Metheny’s work. You can hear that Metheny learned something from Steve Reich when he played his Electric Counterpoint. Here’s a live performance of the ‘opening’.
John Coltrane “The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions” (1961)
Two Coltrane albums? (Cutting to two was difficult) Multiple 14+ minute versions of the two-chord Africa? Yes, please.
Duke Ellington “Far East Suite” (1966)
A spectacular album, and my favourite from Ellington (at the moment). Here’s the title track.
Donny McCaslin “Declaration” (2009)
For contemporary players, McCaslin is one of my favourites. His albums continue to develop and move different directions (I’m planning to write a bit of a review of his latest), but for me this is his best so far. I couldn’t find a clip from this album, but here he is live. He’s great live, and you should check out this album!
Joe Henderson “In Pursuit of Blackness” (1971)
Perhaps I’m just drawn to tenor players (there are several represented on this list), but I cannot get enough of Joe Henderson.
Dave Holland “Ones All” (1995)
A solo album from one of my favourite bassists. By the way, the three jazz double bassists most influential to me are represented on this list: Dave Holland, Charlie Haden, and Chris Wood. Holland playing Mr P.C. live. Absolutely great!
Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny “Beyond the Missouri Sky (Short Stories)” (1997)
I’ve written about my love for this album here, so I won’t repeat myself. Here’s ‘Our Spanish Love Song’.
Wayne Shorter “Beyond the Sound Barrier” (2005)
So I decided I needed to add an eleventh album (it’s my list, so no complaining!) Wayne Shorter is one of my favourite jazz composers, and is represented as a composer elsewhere on this list. Putting together this list reminded me of how much I enjoy this album. Here’s a live performance of one of the tunes from the album.
November 23, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Dear first year students, this is a letter of encouragement to you. We are less than two weeks away from the final day of classes, and I can tell that many of you are tired. How can I tell? I can see it in many of your faces (especially in morning classes!), I’m getting more panicked 4am emails than usual, and there are a few missing from classes. I recognize that you are all busy and stressed, so here a couple pieces of advice for the final couple of weeks and the exam period:
- Get your sleep! Sometimes it feels necessary to stay up late to work, but if it results in being sick or having to recover for the next few days, it puts you further behind. You think better rested.
- Plan. What do you have left to do? When are you going to do it? Schedule some work times and stick to them. (Hint: You can’t say ‘I’ll do that next week’ anymore). Schedule some play times, and play. Exercise.
- Go to your classes. With all of the busyness of assignments, don’t forget to go to class. I’m always amazed at how many people skip the final week of classes and exam review (especially in my classes where I usually give half or more of the exam questions so that students can properly prepare).
- Remember why you are here. In many courses 50% or more of your final grade has yet to be determined. Many of you could end up with an ‘A’ or an ‘F’. You came here to study, so make the most of it. Grades aren’t everything about university, but they sure count for a lot. Treat university like an extended job interview. Your work now (even in the next couple weeks) might make the difference for the way a prof writes a reference letter or who a prof tells about a job opportunity.
For many, a first semester at university is often a reminder about the differences between high school and university. Here’s a couple things that (if you didn’t get them already) you should remember for next semester:
- Think about the big picture of your classes. What are the big ideas that your classes and assignments are asking you to consider?
- Reading would have been easier to do the week it was due
- You don’t get the most out class without doing the reading
- Follow the advice of your profs
- It’s hard to do well if you leave it to the last minute
- “I should have looked at the syllabus before every class like the prof said”
- Despite living communally, this isn’t summer camp
- Stop asking ‘is this on the exam?’ and instead engage the material trusting that if you do that you will do well on assignments.
I wish you all the best on your work over the next few weeks. And by the way, please hand in good assignments. It’s better for you, and so much more fun for me to grade well done papers!
October 9, 2012 § 2 Comments
This post looks at Fast Fourier Transformation (FFT) and its relationship to my life and spectralism. And yes, it’s more than a bit nerdy.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been listening closely to lots of sounds around me while viewing their FFT data. What I’ve been trying to do is to match my experience of sound with a way of visualizing sound. Even though these charts are easy to read, they often seem abstracted from how things sound.
First off, what is Fast Fourier Transformation? Named after Joseph Fourier (1768–1830), the idea here is that any sound can be broken down into its composite parts in their simple form – sine waves. FFT shows the parts of sounds in ‘frequency bins’. So when I sing a single note – as in the image you see of me singing A3 – it is actually made up of other frequencies (overtones/partials). The ‘fast’ part means (in simple terms) that the analysis is done almost in real time.
I’ve been using two ios apps to do the FFT work. Just a few years ago, you would have needed an expensive dedicated machine (of course these apps are not as good as dedicated hardware, but are quite good). The apps are FFT ($25) and SpectrumView (free).
The images in this post from the apps listed above represent two different ways to visualize sound spectra information. One view shows one moment in time, with the amplitude (volume) on the y-axis and the frequency on the x-axis. This is very helpful for detailed analysis at one point in time. The other graph, often called a spectrogram, includes the element of time. Time in seconds is on the x-axis, frequency is on the y-axis, and amplitude is represented by colour or darkness. Here’s a link to a gallery I’ve made with comments on the relationship between sounds and their images.
Spectralist composers frequently use spectral data for the creation of music. Here is Gerard Grisey’s Partiels (I mentioned it last post) which uses the Fourier analysis of the overtones of a trombone as compositional material.
Spectralist composers are often interested in using this data to go beyond music as discreet notes and explore and manipulate how sound is experienced. Grisey’s composition uses ‘orchestral synthesis’ in that it synthesizes another sound with the sound on an orchestra. FFT data is also used for electronic synthesis of sound. Yes, that includes the sounds of the keytar.
September 24, 2012 § Leave a Comment
In this post, I take a look at some wide reaching claims about popular music and show how the insights of spectralist composers points to why these claims might be misguided.
At the end of July, a study entitled “Measuring the Evolution of Contemporary Western Popular Music” came out whose findings seem to confirm what many people over the age of thirty from any era think: namely, that popular music sounds all the same.
Below is a smattering of headlines reporting on this study. What is clear is that journalists liked the idea of this claim, but didn’t really care to check on anything themselves. Many only cite the Reuter’s article and don’t link to the publicly accessible original article:
- Pop music too loud and all sounds the same: official
- Pop music today does all sound the same
- Yup, it really does all sound the same. The evolution of modern pop music.
- The Sound of (Pop) Music: Too Loud, Too Much the Same
I think you get the point. So what is this study all about? Well, it isn’t asking whether all Nickelback songs sound the same (in this case, the answer is yes they do, at least for the most part).
The study looked at music from a giant database of popular music and created three main arguments for why popular music sounds more the same than it did 50 years ago.
- The recordings have a higher degree of loudness
- The harmonies are simpler
- The timbres are more similar
One of the conclusions essentially says that you too could make a hit so long as you make it simple and loud:
Hence, an old tune with slightly simpler chord progressions, new instrument sonorities that were in agreement with current tendencies, and recorded with modern techniques that allowed for increased loudness levels could be easily perceived as novel, fashionable, and groundbreaking.;
There are so many problems here that it would require a ridiculously long post to deal with them all. Let me briefly get a couple of these out of the way and then go on to what spectralism can show us.
First, journalists confused ‘loudness’ with ‘loud’. The ‘loudness’ of this study has to do with a recording technique. ‘Loud’ is losing your hearing at a concert, which you could have done in the 1970s and you can do today if you please.
Second, for some reason the authors of this study decided that their study can serve as a formula for the popularity of music. While the empirical can provide the basis for speculation, they seem to confuse the empirical with the speculative. There are some problems with the methods used in this study, but one thing it does not take into account is that over the past fifty years new sounds were created had not been heard previously. Additionally, the development of electronics enabled timbre to be explored in much more depth, and this changed the timbral potentials of both art music and popular music.
This leads us to spectralism, a topic I am currently doing research on. The following quotes are from composer Tristan Murail – one of the originating composers of what was later called ‘spectralism’. They are from ‘The Revolution of Complex Sounds’ in Contemporary Music Review, Volume 24, Issue 2–3, 2005, pages 121- 135. The first quote explores ideas of ‘sameness’ in experiencing music:
Fans of rock music provide a good example of this ‘other listening‘. For us (‘serious’ musicians), all rock is terribly alike and monotonous (4/4 time, electric guitars, pentatonic melodies, E minor—because it is easier for the guitarists—etc.). For rock listeners, however, there is no doubt about identity of the band or the song, after hearing only a few seconds. What they are hearing is not what we hear: they listen to the sound before anything else; they see the differences and subtleties that will go unnoticed by the musically educated—and thus compartmentalized and conditioned—ear.
The study we started with makes the assumptions of these ‘serious’ musicians. They assume all E minor chords are the same. And of course they aren’t! Hendrix, Justin Vernon, Bob Dylan, and Van Halen don’t all sound the same when they play an E minor chord. But by using categories inherited from art music analysis – which deals primarily with written music simply because we don’t have recordings of Mozart playing Mozart – this study does not do service to our everyday experience of music.
The other problem is that harmony and timbre is another false inherited categorical division that does not hold up to the science of sound nor our everyday perceptions. Murail again:
acoustic analysis and even simple observation show us that there is no precise line between pitch and noise, rhythm and frequency; harmony and sound colour are continuous phenomena.
It doesn’t take much looking into the physics of sound to find that those things we assume to be a single pitch are made up of multiple pitches. In this way, we could say that a single note’s timbre is harmonic since it is made up of more than one pitch. An example of the blurring of harmony and timbre is Gerard Grisey’s Partiels, which uses a Fourier analysis of the overtones of a trombone as the harmonic and timbral ideas of the composition (more on Fourier analysis next time).
What is very interesting about spectralism is that it provides insight into how we experience music and into the science of sound, and does this through compositional process even more than writing about music. So, does music all sound the same? It depends how you listen.
September 19, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Here’s the text of a TEDxTWU talk I gave for TWU’s 50th anniversary weekend on music, ethics, and evolution.
Music, Ethics, and Evolution
15 Sept 2012
What is music for?
Today I want to explore one small question: “What is music for?” Maybe I should have said ‘short question’ because it surely isn’t a small question. Music is something we are all drawn to. We all participate in music and collect music. We can’t explain why we are so drawn to music, but we want to. But how often do we ask what music is for? As this is a complex question, I won’t leave you in suspense. Here’s how I answer this question:
Music places us into relationships with others. It asks us to see the world with and for others. It is for loving your neighbor. In short, music is for ethical relationships.
Today I’ll explain why this is my answer by looking at how we experience music and by touching on some of the science of music, especially cultural evolution. If I’m successful, you will say ‘yes, of course, I know that’. But agreeing with my answer of what music is for means radically rethinking the ways that we think about, consume, and use music.
Before answering our main question, perhaps we should start at an even more fundamental question:
What is music?
Surely now we’ve gotten to an easier question. Well, not really.
One answer is that music is ‘universal’. It is true that there is no known culture now or in the past that doesn’t have something like music (Cross 1999,10). But now complications arise, because while musicality is a human universal, musical practice and features are not. We would be hard pressed to find common traits to tie together different musical practices (Nettl 2005, 17). Of course, the most common claim accompanying the idea that music is universal is that everyone then should appreciate Mozart or Bach. While globalization has created a shared culture in which people from all over the world appreciate music from Adele to Beethoven to Coltrane, this does not mean that music is universal.
New Zealand, 1642
Here’s a story to explain what I mean: In 1642, a ship of Dutch explorers spotted a group of indigenous people off the coast of New Zealand. The Dutch signaled with trumpets, and the New Zealander’s signaled back. The Dutch took this as a sign of greeting, and sent an unarmed boat to land. Their trumpet, however, had been heard as an invitation to fight, and they killed most of the sailors (Lodge 2009, 627). In this situation, the Dutch explorers assumed the universality of music, and paid for the mistake with their lives.
There are even more differences in ideas about music. Our particular situation of purchasing and owning music is quite recent when taking a larger historical view. Even though all cultures have music, there is no ‘universal’ music. Musical practice can best be thought of as a family resemblance. You might have a nose like your grandpa’s, eyes like your aunt, and ears like your second-cousin. Get the four of you together and you can see that you are all related, but you cannot find one feature to tie you all together.
So, what is music?
So, perhaps we can answer the ‘what is music’ question this way:
Musical is a culturally particular practice, but the biological capacity for music is universal.
In other words, we all have the ability to make music, but we make music in different ways. But is there anything more universal to music than this? We’ll need to take a closer look if we are to answer this on our quest to ask what music is for.
One of the common misconceptions about music – unfortunately often through exaggerated claims in the media – is that scientific studies result in universal claims about music. Lots of the work in the science and neuroscience of music is valuable, but instead of getting to musical universals it most often teaches us about musical responses within our culture. And then there are times when claims that are just plain wrong become overblown.
How many of you have something branded ‘Baby Mozart’ or ‘Baby Einstein’ or ‘Baby “some smart person’s name here”’ around? Well, let’s look at the what led to the idea that flashing some lights and playing Mozart through some 1980s sounding synthesizers will make your baby a genius. Oh, and by the way, the picture you are seeing is my one year old daughter with one of her favorite toys, a flashing jukebox of synthy classical hits.
The Mozart Effect
There was a study in 1993 where the researcher got a handful of grad students to listen to some Mozart and then do a spatial reasoning test (Rauscher 1993). The study found that listening to Mozart provided a temporary rise in abstract reasoning skills (and by temporary we’re talking less than an hour). What the study didn’t show was that listening to Mozart was better at doing this than listening to Dr. Dre or going for a run. And what it sure didn’t show was that listening to classical music when you are two years old or even in utero makes you smarter. But that didn’t seem to matter. The ‘Mozart Effect’ seemed to scientifically confirm what many people believed already, mainly that the ‘great’ music could make you great as well. The ‘Mozart Effect’ made its way through popular culture and contributed greatly to the whole edu-toy movement (Slaboda 2007). This idea was so quickly accepted that in 1998 the governor of Georgia sought to buy every new baby a classical music album. Turns out a major record company stepped in and provided the albums for free, hoping to cash in on the trend.
(By the way, all of this isn’t to say that music cannot enhance childhood development. There is plenty of research showing that the mental and physical coordination required to learn an instrument does aid development.)
Music and science in the news
This trend of using science to make universal claims about music continues today (seems I cannot go week without a new headline about something new science has proved about music). Here are a couple headlines from the past couple months:
‘Study proves music is getting sadder’ (the original headline)
This study makes huge assumptions, including the claim that slower music is sadder. Slower also could indicate more relaxed.
- The ‘loudness’ referenced in this study actually has to do with recording technique, not the loudness of ‘those kids and their loud music’. There are other problems too, but I won’t get into them here (check my blog).
Science can tell us lots about music, but it must be remembered that science is studying the brains and music of a particular time and place, and people in different times and places may not respond the same way.
So while the particular responses might not be universal, one thing that is universal is that we respond to music. And this leads us to the topic of entrainment.
Entrainment, roughly speaking, is the ability to coordinate rhythms with others. Let’s do a quick entrainment experiment. I’ll clap, and you follow.
Hurrah, entrainment! Now, try to get a group of dogs in a room to do the same thing! While entrainment can be found in rudimentary was in some animals (you may have seen the dancing bird on youtube), it is very sophisticated in human beings. And it goes beyond just coordinating rhythms and physical movement and includes the sharing of emotional states.
Here’s a personal example of musical entrainment in action. In the first several months of my eldest daughters life, either my wife or I rocked her to sleep while singing to her (often to the melody of Brahms’ lullaby). Singing became an import element of bedtime, a signal to calm down and get ready to sleep. Entrainment between myself and my daughter took place, resulting in a shared emotional state despite the lack of a shared spoken language. Now, when she started figuring out that bed wasn’t her favorite place, she didn’t entrain quite so easily. But then she started sining along with me, and we shared emotional and physical entrainment, and she ended up singing herself to sleep. Since the caregiver-infant relationship does not have a shared language, music provides much of the early social and emotional entrainment that establishes attachments.
I’m sure you can think of plenty of examples where music has created a shared place for relationships with others. Perhaps it was a feeling of togetherness when singing along to a song at a concert or church service, or maybe during the spontaneous singing of the national anthem we saw when the Olympics were in Vancouver a couple years ago. Music therapy is based on the idea that music can help people regulate and share emotions.
The Evolution of Culture
Now, this has larger implications about what music is for. One of the key moments in the evolution of our species was the ability to share with others through language, empathy, and cooperation. Since musical experience is bound to human relationships and seems to have predated language, it may have been the key to one of the most important periods in human history: the development of culture. Far from ‘auditory cheesecake’ (Steven Pinker), something nice to have but unimportant, music might have been the most important thing that human beings ever did (Cross 1999, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2010). Before the development of language, music could have enabled the sharing of emotional states and the coordination of complex actions that allowed for the survival of our species and the development of culture, a distinguishing feature of human beings.
But just as music can create connection and togetherness, music can also exert violence. For example, in Guantanamo Bay, music was used as torture. I’m not talking about playing ‘Achey Breaky Heart’ all day. In this case, music from the iPods of soldiers was blasted through the prison at a level that would not allow prisoners to sleep, think, or pray. National anthems can create a sense of togetherness, but they can also exclude others. In the 1990s, Croat prisoners were forced to sing the Yugoslav national anthem while being beaten (Cloonan and Johnson 2002, 34).
Music and Ethics
So what does this all mean? How do all of these explorations help us answer our opening question: ‘What is music for?’ From looking at experiences of music and evolutionary science, it seems that one universal we can find is that music is a way of relating to others. This means that music is essentially related to ethics. In other words, music is about loving our neighbors.
Musical experience is one of the ways we interact with others in profound ways that go beyond language. Musical experience is attractive in part because it leads us beyond what we can articulate and understand and leads us to the mysteries of ourselves, other people, and beyond. Music has the potential to create ethical and violent relationships. Note that my argument has not been that certain types or styles of music are ethical, but that the key is how music is used.
If music is about the ethics of loving other people, that might mean a radical change in the ways that we think about and use music in the marketplace, in our churches, in the law, and in our daily lives. So if we answer the question ‘what is music for’ with the answer ‘to love other people’, what changes will we bring about to make that happen? This is the question I want to leave you with today: after looking more into what music is for, how can you love other people in the ways you use music?
Cloonan, M. J., Bruce. (2002). Killing Me Softly with His Song: An Initial Investigation into the Use of Popular Music as a Tool of Oppression. Popular Music Vol. 21, No. 1, 27–39.
Cross, I. (1999). Is Music the Most Important Thing We Ever Did ? Music, Development and Evolution. In S. W. Yi (Ed.), Music, Mind, and Science ? (pp. 10–39). Seoul: Seoul National University Press.
Cross, I. (2003). Music and Biocultural Evolution. In T. H. M. Martin Clayton, Richard (Ed.), The Cultural Study of Music : A Critical Introduction (pp. 19–30). London: Routledge.
Cross, I. (2008). Musicality and the Human Capacity for Culture. Musicae Scientiae Special Issue: Narrative in music and interaction, 147–167.
Cross, I. (2009). The Evolutionary Nature of Musical Meaning. Musicae Scientiae Special Issue: Music and evolution, 179–200.
Cross, I. (2010). The Evolutionary Basis of Meaning in Music: Some Neurological and Neuroscientific Implications. In F. C. Rose (Ed.), The Neurology of Music. London, Imperial College Press.
Lodge, M. (2009). Music Historiography in New Zealand. In Z. Blazekovic (Ed.), Music’s Intellectual History (pp. 625–632). New York: RILM.
Nettl, B. (2005). The Study of Ethnomusicology : Thirty-One Issues and Concepts. Urbana, Ill.; Chesham: University of Illinois Press; Combined Academic distributor.
Rauscher, F. H., Gordon L. Shaw Katherine N. Ky. (1993). Music and Spatial Task Performance. Nature Vol. 365, 611.
Slaboda, J. A. (2007). Mozart in Psychology. Music Performance Research Vol 1(1), 66–75.
September 10, 2012 § Leave a Comment
In going through old blog posts, I realized that I never posted this on my blog. For those of you who missed it, last summer we published out inaugural edition of ’Verge: a journal of the arts and Christian faith’. There are some great articles in it, and if you haven’t had a chance yet, take a look at it. The table of contents and downloadable pdf files of each article can be found here. Future issues are in the works, and we take submissions on an ongoing basis. All of that information is on the journal website. Below I’ve copied the text from my introduction to the journal and this issue.
Introduction: On the Verge
JEFF R. WARREN
Throughout history, Christianity and the arts have converged in many different ways. At times, the Christian church was the catalyst for artists that we remember today as some of the greatest in history, including J.S. Bach and Michelangelo. Yet in other times, artistic practice was considered suspicious by the church and stifled artistic expression, as witnessed in the iconoclasm of medieval times and the revival of iconoclasm in the radical Reformation that influences many Protestant churches to this day. The past fifty years have not seen any decline in examples of the complex relationships between the arts and the Christian faith. The meteoric rise of Gregorian chant on the popular music charts in the 1990s, the controversy surrounding Andres Serrano’s ‘Piss Christ,’ the linkage of country music and conservative Christianity, and the development of ‘contemporary Christian music’ are just a few recent examples from popular culture that reveal the complex and sometimes fractured relationships of the arts and Christian faith.
This journal makes space for open discussion about the myriad issues at the convergence of the arts and Christian faith. This journal therefore participates in a discussion that has existed since the beginning of Christianity and continues in many forms and traditions. Within Protestantism alone, the past fifty years have seen a development of at least two major centres of theological exploration of the arts. In the mid-1950s, Francis Schaeffer began ‘L’Abri’ as a place to “develop a Christian perspective on the arts, politics and the social sciences” (http://www.labri.org/history.html). In the late 1990s, Jeremy Begbie began a ‘theology through the arts’ project under the premise that close investigation of the arts can reveal theological insights. These movements created much discussion and have rightly questioned some long held Christian assumptions and prejudices about the arts. Some artistic forms and approaches, however, have not found an easy relationship with these movements, and this journal grows from the conviction that there remains room for much discussion. In this journal, we are interested in exploring any and every connection of the arts and Christian faith, with the belief that placing divergent points of view into dialogue will illuminate more about the arts, Christian faith, and the human condition.
The inaugural edition of Verge: a journal of the arts and Christian faith sets the tone for the breadth and depth of inquiry this journal encourages. Different art forms, time periods, and views of the relationships between the arts and Christian faith are discussed. Bruce Ellis Benson’s article explores the relationship between views of artistic genesis and the genesis of the world. He finds a parallel between the Kantian idea of genius and the theological doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Benson explores the creative process by drawing on examples as diverse as Bach and contemporary animation, and makes the argument that art making is not characterized by spontaneous creation but by improvisation; that is, responding to someone else with what is at hand. A call and response structure is prominent within jazz improvisation, but Benson argues that all artists respond to something, even if it is a response to artists who have come before them. He concludes with the implications this exploration of creation might have for interpreting the biblical creation account.
Mark Sprinkle’s article explores the ecologies of meaning of visual artworks in domestic contexts. Most often, artistic meaning is discussed in terms of formal and subject matter analysis, or the ways that meanings change when a piece is removed from an original context such as an altarpiece and placed in a context such as a gallery. The role of visual art in domestic spaces has been explored far less often. Sprinkle explores many case studies of the roles images play in connecting domestic contexts to other places, people, and faith. He also discusses the different ways people experience visual art in a domestic context as com- pared to a gallery. Sprinkle writes as a visual artist whose research into domestic spaces has altered his own approach to the ways he distributes and shows his art.
Thomas Merton’s life and work intersected with many disciplines. Ron Dart traces the life of Merton from a self-indulgent Cambridge student to his life as a Roman Catholic monk and his eventual influence on Pope John XXIII. Dart explores Merton’s relation to peacemaking and how these interests placed him into relationship with the likes of the beat poets, the Pope, and Dorothy Day. Merton is known for prose writing on various topics including the thought of Gandhi, but he also published over ten volumes of poetry. Merton provides a striking example of someone whose faith was integral both to his social views and his artistic creation.
Metaphor is important to meaning making in the arts. Poetry, visual art, music and theatre are among the arts where aesthetic experience often depends on metaphor; that is, on the comparison of two dissimilar things. Poetry has the most known examples of metaphor, but even hearing a melody rise is an example of a deeply engrained metaphor. Jamin Pelkey explores the role of metaphor in the aesthetics of two thinkers who are not usually compared to one another: Jonathan Edwards and Friedrich Nietzsche. Pelkey argues that despite their differences and individual shortcomings, the central place of aesthetics and metaphor within each thinker is complementary in that it corrects errors of the other’s thought. Pelkey also argues that the aesthetics of both Edwards and Nietzsche should be seen as forerunners of the various contemporary approaches – including phenomenology, pragmatism, semiotics and cognitive science – that attempt to grasp the ways that we understand as embodied human beings.
In 2009, a posthumous collection of poems was released from one of Canada’s fore- most poets, Margaret Avison. D.S. Martin reviews the collection of poems entitled Listening: Last Poems, exploring the ways the poems relate to her career and to her faith. Martin draws upon his own encounters with Avison and other elements of her life in the discussion of this volume, providing an introduction to the life and work of Avison in addition to a review of Listening.
Discussions about launching this journal have taken place over a number of years. For the past five years, Trinity Western University has hosted interdisciplinary arts conferences on a number of topics under the moniker ‘The Verge,’ and every year there has been some discussion of getting this journal up and running (for more on the conferences, see http://www.twu.ca/academics/samc/interdisciplinary/conferences/). The excellent discussion at these annual conferences provided confirmation that there is a need and desire for a forum of this sort. Many thanks are in order to the people who helped get this journal under- way. There is not space here to thank everyone, but a special thanks to Ron Dart and Jamin Pelkey, whose continued work and encouragement have been greatly appreciated. Thanks also to Linda Schwartz and David Squires, past and current deans of the School of the Arts, Media + Culture at TWU for their continued support of interdisciplinary inquiry into the arts through hosting conferences and this journal. Thanks to Trinity Western University for setting up and hosting the Open Journal System server. Finally, a huge thanks to Shayna Leenstra for all of her excellent work on the journal layout, as well as in the administration of the journal. On the verge of this journal, I hope you enjoy the inaugural edition, and I hope it opens a space for continued dialogue on the arts and Christian faith.