Wings & Things

From These Peeps:

Curving to Fly: Synthetic Adaptation Unveils Optimal Flight Performance of Whirling Fruits Author:

Jean Rabault, Richard A. Fauli, and Andreas Carlson

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Something Meme Something

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Rock Around the Croc: Beethoven and the Symphony

Welcome back to your not-necessarily-weekly education in music and music history. I’m your host Sobek, and today my subject is the end of the Classical era and the beginning of the Romantic period. Alternate title, Beethoven Changes Everything Forever. Let’s start with a quote:

“Music should strike fire from the heart of man, and bring tears from the eyes of a woman”

That’s awesome. Now about some memes? Let’s see what we have around here…

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Crytidz – a Message from the Good Doctor

Because I post stupid shit that doesn’t even make sense to me most of the time, one of our brothers here at hostageland sent me a link for this little beastie:
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Rock Around the Croc: The French Baroque

Last week I said I was going to wrap it up with the Baroque era, but then in the comments I mentioned Jean-Baptiste Lully, and that got me thinking about how I really didn’t touch on the French Baroque. That being said, I’m not nearly as familiar with that period as with the Italian and German influences, so there’s only so much I can say. Let’s start with some more Lully, the dirty rat-bastard who swindled and murdered his way to the top of Louis XIV’s court before he accidentally killed himself by smashing his toe with a conductor’s baton and dying of gangrene:

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Rock Around the Croc: The Baroque Era and the Fugue

Welcome back to your weekly putting of some knowledge. I’m your host Sobek, I know less about music than I let on, and today we’re getting into the Baroque Era. Here’s some pretty music:

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Rock Around the Croc: Intro to the Baroque

Super quick post today because I was too busy this week to do anything with more detail. I’m just going to throw some stuff at you for now and then get into more detail in coming weeks.

The Baroque period runs from 1600 to 1750. Historical dates like these are usually pretty arbitrary, but the Baroque era is slightly less so than others because the start and end dates have actual significance. In 1600, the first opera properly so-called was performed, and J.S. Bach died in 1750. So those are the bookends.

I mentioned in a previous post that the big names to remember for Renaissance music are Josquin des Prez and Palestrina, and if you can casually drop those names in conversation you will definitely impress people. If you get nothing else out of these posts, I hope you will at least remember the Big Three names from the Baroque era: Johann Sebastian Bach, George Friedrich Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi. For this week, I’m just going to link some music from each, just to get us excited for what’s coming:

J.S. Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor:

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Ballistics and Other Boring Stuff

I’ve been trying to think of an entertaining way to organize thoughts on our cursory talks about firesticks and their associated consumables.

This is stolen directly from Merriam-Webster:

bal·​lis·​tics | \ bə-ˈli-stiks \

Definition of ballistics

1a : the science of the motion of projectiles in flight b : the flight characteristics of a projectile

2a : the study of the processes within a firearm as it is fired b : the firing characteristics of a firearm or cartridge

Not sure I’ll pass the test.

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Rock Around the Croc: Greek Roots

For today’s lesson, let’s get into some definitions. In this series, I will be talking about Western concert music. When I say western, I mean Euro-centric, as opposed to east Asian or African (about which I know basically nothing). When I say concert music, I mean the kind of music that is sometimes inaccurately called Classical music. It’s not really a problem when people use the word Classical because most people know what you mean. But “Classical,” strictly speaking, means that music produced from about 1730 to about 1820, and for our information, the big three of the classical era were Franz Haydn (1732-1809), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91) and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Concert music is a much more inclusive term.

The next word to define is “orchestra.” The word has its roots in Greek drama, in which the chorus would sing commentary on the action of the play. The musicians would sit in the semicircular ring at the base of the amphitheater, and that area was called the orkestra. Usually the singers would be accompanied by a kithara (kind of like a harp), cymbals or an aulos (like an oboe).

I think that kithara looks happy. Greek music sounds very strange to my ears, both because of the harsh sounds of the instruments and the unfamiliar note choices. Here’s a selection of the chorus from Agamemnon, by Aeschylus. I have no idea why there’s a piano in there. The note choices sound completely alien to my ears.

The other thing to notice is the texture. Musical texture comes in three varieties: monophony, polyphony, and homophony. In monophonic music, there is only one melody line, and all voices (whether singers or musical instruments) sing that same melody line at the same time. After the collapse of Rome and Rome’s municipal authority, the Catholic Church largely stepped into the power vacuum to maintain order and preserve western culture, from barbaric and pagan encroachment, and that included imposing rules on the kinds of music that could be written. The rules, all based on the Church’s desire to point the soul to God, were designed to counter pagan influences. Because instrumental music can’t teach the listener about Christianity, and because certain techniques like large choruses and dancing were associated with pagan ritual, they were rejected. Now the important thing about rules is that they were made to be broken – this will be an important theme as I discuss the history of music – but if you break the rules, and the only institution that can effectively write down and preserve your music is the same institution that makes those rules, you can’t expect your music to survive through the ages. So while I’m sure there were many Europeans writing instrumental dances and whatnot, in defiance of “the rules,” a purely aural tradition carried around by unlettered dance troupes is not one we would expect to last in the records.

But if you do want your music to survive through the ages, I can’t think of a better way that to carve it into your tombstone. The next selection is called the Epitaph of Seikilos, and the two things we know about Mr. Seikilos are that he liked music enough to carve notation into his headstone, and that he liked drinking, because the eitaph is a skolion or drinking song. Here’s the text of the epitaph:

While you live, shine
have no grief at all
life exists only for a short while
and Time demands his due

And here’s a modern recording:

Nick Cave (one of my favorite songwriters) once opined that there are really only three things you can sing about: love, death and God. I don’t know if it’s really that narrow, but the epitaph certainly suggest that some themes are universal, like drinking to forget your problems. One of my favorite bands of all time is the Afghan Whigs, and their song Milez is Dead (from the amazing album “Congregation”) has as its chorus, “don’t forget the alcohol,” repeated about 174 times. The fact that Greg Dulli sounds pretty wasted when singing it is only fitting (warning on this video: if the sight of someone shooting up disturbs you, then maybe don’t watch this one).

I’m sure you guys can think of some other songs about booze in basically any genre, like George Thorogood’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” or Bessie Smith’s “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer.” So note choice, chord arrangement and instrumentation can change very dramatically, but vocal themes don’t seem to change very much.

One last definition for today: when Renaissance composers rediscovered Greek ideals of music they adopted the word orkestra to mean the collection of musicians, and the orchestra pit is where they sit and play during any performance when they aren’t on stage, like an opera. The term “orchestral work” means concert music featuring musical instruments, with or without vocal accompaniment.

As always, I’m heavily indebted to Professor Robert Greenberg and his course, How to Listen to and Understand Great Music for a lot of what I know about music history, but to my knowledge he’s never cited the Afghan Whigs or Nick Cave. Well, nobody’s perfect.

Rock Around the Croc: Vocal Lines

The topic of today is vocal lines, and in particular some of the things I like about vocal lines. Let’s start old school, with Giovanni Perluigi Palestrina (1525-1594), Sicut Cervis:

Palestrina – Sicut cervus – The Cambridge Singers



In the period leading up to the Reformation, composers of Renaissance masses tried to outdo each other in the complexity of their compositions, but in the process made the vocal lines totally incomprehensible. Pretty, sure, but if the point was to go to mass and actually learn something, if you didn’t have the text memorized you were out of luck.

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