Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Beresford Green Speaks... (Thirteenth Fit)

Beresford Green. Man of Destiny

There is still a good deal of mystery attached to our understanding of what makes a good "musician". Current thinking has it that among the many necessary strands is dexterity on the instrument, creativity, communication on an emotional level, and a special faculty for memory. Yet you don't need to be a player at all to be a musical genius. Oh no! Many a wonderful composer is a non-player. Science has something to say about why we like the music we do. A definite preference for consonance over dissonance only alters as we grow older & more sophisticated. {Perhaps deaf!}. I favour the idea that the physical parts of the ear prefers the harmonic resonances that is given by vibrations that don't fight with each other. Too simple? That's me. It is said to be the music of our teenage that has the longest long-term influence. Whatever the truth of that reason, I wouldn't subscribe to it being that period alone. I was definitely influenced from the age of three or four. I liked the "cowboy music" of Gene Autry & Hank Williams from the start. I liked my parents records of the 30's - which ranged through dance bands to operatic arias. Nevertheless, by the age of 18/20 it is said that our musical tastes have formed. After that we seem more reluctant to remain open to new ideas.
{Ref: - Daniel Levitin "Your brain on music"}.

In delightful combination there may be symbiosis. It's hard to imagine "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" being as "catchy" if it had not got the lyric that it has.Yet would that lyric be as emotional without any tune? It's a tough one. For me I love the songs that have just the "right" balance. Especially if I can play them! Even more if I can play them in a key that I can attempt to sing them in. Therein lies the frustration & the challenge - for me, when it come to learning new stuff. How often can I get all the bits I need into harness? Rarely is the answer. Very rarely.

The invention by Thomas Edison of the Phonograph in 1878 was not the beginning for two reasons: - 1) He wasn't actually the first, and 2) It took another 10 yrs for the cousin of Alexander Graham Bell, (the man credited with inventing the telephone-CAREFUL!), to come up with a useable wax cylinder. His name, very appropriately, was CHICHESTER Bell, and he worked with a certain Mr C.S. Tainter. From that point there would be seismic changes in the way Music Hall & other items reached into people's homes. By the way, St Anley the Incandescent, it was during that time that Edison pursued his carbon filament light bulb, and he wasn't first to come up with that either. The credit goes to a certain Mr Joseph Swan who demonstrated his prototype years before (1860). He actually obtained his patent a year before Edison in 1879. Better still he was British!

And did you think that John Logie Baird invented Television? He didn't! He developed the Russian Nipkow's mechanical scanning system, yes. Even so, his whole concept was eventually blown sky high by a certain Mr Alan Dower Blumlein, possibly the greatest electrical/electronic engineer of all time, and certainly a genius without parallel in the 20th century. He worked for EMI. (Columbia - HMV). He was also, and now we're literally back on track, the inventor of Stereo. Actually he called it "Binaural Sound." This was pre TV (1931) when he was charged to get a better quality recording system that would get around the Edison patents. There's a lovely little story to go with this. Wanna hear it? While at the cinema with his girlfriend Doreen, she commented on how the voices all came from the same place. It was this train of thought that led him to it. However, it was so far ahead of its time that it got shelved for around 20 years awaiting a more enlightened era. In between he made an enormous technical contribution to the development of wartime Radar, and gave his life testing the process in a 1942 plane crash. The political secrecy erected to shroud his death from the enemy left him in obscurity for all time. Not with thee & me now eh?

When you attempt to record sound everything goes wrong. It is extremely difficult to capture the balance & ambience in a way that sounds natural. In fact unnatural is still the byword for some popular music production. Several well known effects were discovered in recording studios, and it would be some years before these could be done live. These somewhat "processed" sounds make it difficult to copy the songs. The problem of balance also brought developments to bear. From separate microphones and a central mixing desk to a method that could record every instrument in isolation, yet still in time with each other. This means they can be post edited and altered in many ways. An early example of this can be heard on Humphrey Littleton's "Bad Penny Blues" which was recorded by the legendary engineer, Joe Meek at Parlophone, (I thought it was Philips!), He boosted & processed the piano sound to unnatural levels. You get this sound if you take off the panel by the pedals and lie down there. {Yes I have!}.

P.S. Even Albert Einstein was helped by his mathematician wife. Then he divorced her! Nice. {Extract Wikipedia - Einstein's gifts inevitably resulted in his dwelling much in intellectual solitude and, for relaxation, music played an important part in his life. He married Mileva Maric in 1903 and they had a daughter and two sons; their marriage was dissolved in 1919}. So much for jazz!


A Einstein (Miss) said...

Short response: ho hum.
Slightly longer response: Berry seems to confuse liking the music with being able to play it/make similar sounds to a particular recording: try relaxing on the copyist approach and trying more for 'this is what I want to do with it, as far as I can, so it becomes my original interpretation'.
P.S. How many composers were non-players? Name five, if you can!

BeresfordJohn said...

Oh Miss Einstein - why did I open my big mouth? Paganini IV, - Botticelli,- Tagliatelle, - Mussolini. I know Lionel Bart couldn't. Irvin Berlin was famously shaky as was Boubell & Schoenbourg. Jerry Herman couldn't read and thinking on I maybe confusing reading with playing. I mean anyone, even a child can play something. Just open the piano lid! Then I suppose there are the lyricists like Gus Khan & Hal David, but they don't really count. My sister can't play yet she sings her own songs. They're awful! What is it Ken Hobbs does?
To be fair I suppose a composer ought to know HOW the instruments are played & what is possible. That fact alone tells me that there are many who don't know what's possible on the guitar. If they referred to me they'd soon find out! Tchaikovsky couldn't play the violin but that didn't stop him writing for it!
But the best example is Conlon Nancarrow. He used a piano roll punch machine because he couldn't play anything! If I knew how to get a longer message over to you I would say much more about him. But alas I know not who you may be - even though I deduce, pretty smart and smartly pretty.
John Cage wrote that silent thing so no-one needed to play anything. Henry VIII who probably didn't write "Greensleeves." Oh God I gotta stop this and get me a proper life!

St. Anley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
St. Anley said...

OK, Berry,

You’ve perused ‘Wikipedia’ too. (That sounds awfully like something for which you could be convicted and placed on the sexual offences register. You must NOT wik paeds!)

I have no argument with your historical account regarding the carbon filament bulb. Edison WAS a plagiarist. Unfortunately, money talked and Edison eventually bought out Swan. Edison’s name falls into further disrepute since he developed the electric chair. I accept that he wasn’t really motivated by a morbid desire to execute people; he simply wanted to demonstrate the possible advantages of a direct current electricity supply. If I were the occupant of such a chair, would I care?

However, in my imaginary and enlightened universe, the Swan/Edison debate is superfluous …

Some say it was Swan,
Others argue Edison created incandescence,
Verily, I say unto you,
Blessed St. Anley brought us luminescence!

(Why does spellcheck always want to change the word 'incandescence' to ‘incontinence’?)

Outa_Spaceman said...

If, as I very much doubt, Edison did 'develop' the electric-chair, why was he so anxious to have the process referred to as "being Westinghoused"..?
And don't me started on what he did to Topsy the elephant...