Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘music’

06 MAY, 2011

Notations 21: 165 Musicians Visualize Sheet Music in Unusual Ways

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What the color wheel has to do with Beethoven and supporting arts education.

There’s something especially mesmerizing about the cross-pollination of the senses, particularly in visualizing music. That’s exactly what Notations 21 explores. Inspired by John Cage’s iconic 1968 Notations and originally released for its 50th anniversary, the ambitious 320-page volume by Theresa Sauer and Mark Batty Publishers reveals how 165 composers and musicians around the world are experiencing, communicating and reconceiving music visually by reinventing notation.

From acclaimed musicians like Karlheinz Stockhausen, Earle Brown, Halim El-Dabh, Joan La Barbara, and Yuji Takahashi to emerging global talent, this magnificent tome examines how both the technology and the expectations of this unique synesthetic language have changed over the past half-century.

I sincerely hope that this book motivates the reader to further research contemporary music and the artists that compose it, to seek out their recordings, attend performances, and support the arts in education. We live in an incredible time in music history — here is only a small sampling of the evidence.” ~ Theresa Sauer

With its visual eloquence and remarkable diversity of perspectives, Notations 21 isn’t merely an anthology but also an ambitious thesaurus of sensemaking for the art and science of neo-notation.

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25 APRIL, 2011

Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald

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Five ways to celebrate The First Lady of Song, from illustration to rare concert footage.

On April 25, 1917, the world welcomed the great Ella Fitzgerald, nicknamed The First Lady of Song. Her remarkable recording career spanned 59 years, garnered 13 Grammys and forever changed the face of jazz with her signature improvisational scat singing. Today, we celebrate Lady Ella five ways.

ONE NOTE SAMBA

Ella’s legendary scat singing springs to life in this rare recording from June 22, 1969. Here, she performs One Note Samba with Ed Thigpen on drums, Frank de la Rosa on bass, and Tommy Flanagan on piano.

ELLA + LOUIS

As far as artistic collaborations go, hardly does it get more iconic and powerful than Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. While sifting through YouTube’s annoying array of static-photo-with-low-quality-audio-recording non-videos for a decent example, we stumbled upon this lovely animation from BBC4, a charming take on one of their most beloved duets, Dream A Little Dream Of Me:

SKIT-SCAT RAGGEDY CAT

It’s no secret we have a soft spot for children’s books. So we love Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald from author Roxanne Orgill and mixed-media artist Sean Qualls — the wonderfully illustrated rags-to-riches story of how Lady Ella sang her way from the streets of Yonkers to jazz history.

Bonus points: Interwoven throughout the eloquent biographical narrative are snippets of Fitzgerald’s most iconic songs.

But what makes Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat most noteworthy is the very concept of engaging kids with jazz — another facet of the kind of cross-disciplinary curiosity that’s fundamental to true “education” and creativity.

SUMMERTIME

It hardly gets more classic than Lady Ella belting George Gershwin’s Summertime, as she does in this rare and powerful footage from a 1968 concert in Berlin:

ELLA BY HERMAN LEONARD

This rare photograph of Ella on stage in New York in 1948 comes from Jazz — the humbly titled yet absolutely amazing retrospective of the work of legendary photographer Herman Leonard, which we reviewed last year. Leonard had been photographing jazz musicians since the 1950s and developed close friendships with greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, which gave him unique access to these innovators and their larger worlds beyond the stage. The book reveals a rare glimpse of the underbelly of a cultural revolution through stunning, luminous never-before-seen images of icons like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and more.

Leonard captures, with his signature visual eloquence, the grace and elegance with which Lady Ella was able to command a room’s attention, transfixing the audience like the vocal hypnotist that she was.

Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, NYC, New York, 1948

Image courtesy of Herman Leonard

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22 APRIL, 2011

An Eyeful of Sound: How Synesthesia Works

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The color of Friday, or what the absence on silence has to do with the presence of light.

We have a long-standing fascinating with synesthesia, the rare neurological condition that leads stimulation in one sensory pathway to trigger an experience in another — a neural short-circuiting that enables such strange phenomena as hearing colors, seeing sounds and tasting smells.

Earlier this year, we looked at some mesmerizing near-synesthetic ways of visualizing music in color and learned how synesthesia operates in the brain of an autistic savant. Today, we turn to An Eyeful of Sound– a fascinating animated documentary about audio-visual synesthesia, which attempts to add an intimate, visceral layer to our intellectual understanding of the peculiar condition.

All sounds have color. The alphabet has color. Days of the week have color. Each day has a color and a certain shape.”

What makes strange phenomena like synesthesia all the more fascinating is that they raise unsettling questions about some of the most fundamental givens of the “normal” brain: Does color even exist, or is it merely a product of our fancy? Do things have inherent, static smells, tastes, sounds and colors, or do we arbitrarily intuit those from our own minds to attribute to them? Are life’s sensory qualities static and permanent — is the sky always blue, lemons always sour — or are they fluid and dynamic attributes on a spectrum we just happen to experience arbitrary slices of?

HT @kirstinbutler

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