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Book Commentary on PHYSICS IN MIND by Werner R. Loewenstein August 15, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, consciousness, metaphysics, non-fiction books, physics, Physics in Mind, spirituality, Werner R Loewenstein.
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Physics in Mind is a cutting edge look at the relationship between physics and consciousness. Though author Warner Loewenstein admittedly does not reach ultimate answers, he takes us to frontiers laden with insight. For the issues I find myself immersed in—physics melding with metaphysics/more than one path to the Divine, to “God”—this is a fantastic book that I continue to study. There is no question that Loewenstein comes at this from the physics direction, not the metaphysics or consciousness direction. But he recognizes the edges he treads on: “Our discussion about time and its arrow included spans as long as all of cosmic evolution. Of arrows of such haul, we have but a smattering of tangible experience—the arrows in our everyday sensory world are but miniscule segments of them. If we may ever hope to bring those arrows within our grasp, we must go beyond our natural sensory horizon. Not long ago such transcending would have landed us in metaphysics. But nowadays this is not only workable but bright with scientific promise.”

Loewenstein takes us on a journey through the key concepts to master if we are to find a meeting ground for science and spirituality, for physics and metaphysics. Time is where he starts. He brings us the current understanding of time, going through “time’s arrow” with the Second Law of Thermodynamics approach, and with a cosmological approach, with time as the flow of linked events pointing forward from the “Big Bang.” But he does offer a famous Einstein quote: “To us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future has only the significance of a stubborn allusion.”

So we come to understand time as part of our perspective on the world, something we need to account for as we try to understand the world as it presents to us. But time may well be an illusion. I’ve written other essays and posts about the idea that really, everything exists always and is interconnected. Time is for us, a process we use to understand and experience our little piece of that huge time-space reality. But other consciousnesses may have different mechanisms for taking in that I’ve called the vast gleaming gem of existence, of overlapping energy fields that exist together/forever intertwined. Loewenstein’s discussion of time is consistent with these ideas.

Loewenstein goes from time arrows to information arrows. Here we go to the fundamental particle level. We look at how particles interact and exchange information through those interactions. It is those interactions that bring conscious beings—humans and other sentient beings—information about the world. Matter appears to be points of energy, little concentrations of energy fields. Matter materialized out of nearly pure energy at 10-25 seconds after the “Big Bang.” All of these overlapping energy fields make up existence. That matter, those energy fields that make up the conscious being, exchanges information with energy fields outside that conscious entity. Loewenstein brings us the process details of these interactions, right down to the tiniest levels known to science. He offers the theory that “the time structure in the molecular domain was the evolutionary niche for neuron development, including its dénouement, and that the very skewness of the structure spurred on that development.”

What we learn as Loewenstein guides us through this current knowledge is that 1) we sense a very small part of the existence around us and 2) that we are not designed to take in every detail of reality. Lowenstein diagrams the miniscule portion of the photon spectrum that we actually see. We further learn that even those narrow light-waves are edited and processed in our brains. We did not evolve to perceive every detail of reality. Evolution favored an emphasis on what we developing humans needed to survive and pass on our genetic material to our offspring. So we are intelligent, conscious beings who come into existence with daunting observational limitations.

Loewenstein takes the subject-matter much further, into quantum physics, into the micro-level of waves of probability collapsing from many possibilities into one. He does not offer definitive answers here—there may not be any. At one time, scientists believed that if they could learn everything, they should be able to predict everything. But the discovery and awareness of quantum physics has changed that. Lowenstein puts this well: “That is what puts these systems beyond the apprehension of mathematics; the non-linearities amplify the inherent uncertainties in the system at an exponential rate, always putting the system a step beyond the reach of mathematical prediction—or put in terms of information, the uncertainties in the system grow faster than the capacity of information processing.”

We may never understand it all. But if we are ever to get close, at our level of perception, this type of analysis will get us on the right track. I found this book challenging (as I am not trained in the cutting edge knowledge of molecular biology and particle physics), but mind-expanding and insight-generating.

What does this do for my physics/metaphysics, more than one path to God thinking? It confirms, from the scientific end, what a limited—almost inconceivably limited—slice of the all-consciousness we humans have access to. And that dramatically and powerfully demands that we maintain our search for more knowledge, from both scientific and spiritual angles, and that as we do so, we embrace the idea that there may be more than one path to get there. That means there may be more than one religious/metaphysical path, or that the path might arrive from a scientific direction! Minds need to be open; faiths need to be tolerant. And the more that tolerant, inquisitive minds pool their knowledge, the closer we will come to whatever ultimate understanding is available to creatures with our perceptive capabilities.

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I explore issues mention in other blog posts on this subject:

Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness – August 30, 2011

Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness II – October 7, 2011

Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness – Commentary on Dr. Eben Alexander’s book Proof of Heaven – February 1, 2013

Book Commentary on COLLIDER by Chris Hejmanowski – June 1, 2013

I explore the relationship of these ideas to music:

Commentary on Music – Conclusions (For Now…)

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Book Commentary/Review – MAKING YOUR CREATIVE MARK: NINE KEYS TO ACHIEVING YOUR CREATIVE GOALS August 1, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, creative people, creativity, Eric Maisel, Making Your Creative Mark, non-fiction books.
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As someone who self-describes himself as a “creative eccentric,” and offers a blog of that name, we can expect that I will post on creativity. Commenting on Eric Maisel’s book Making Your Creative Mark: Nine Keys to Achieving Your Creative Goals gives me the perfect opportunity.

The bio on the book cover describes Dr. Maisel as “America’s foremost creativity coach and a prolific creator who has written over forty books.” I learned about this book as a result of my subscription to Publishers Weekly. (I look at the reviews to get an idea of what is coming out—mainly fiction, with an emphasis on historical fiction—but the non-fiction reviews often tip me off on intriguing releases as they did on this occasion.) I have since then ordered two more of Dr. Maisel’s books based on the helpful material I received in this one.

What I love most about Dr. Maisel is that he offers practical, no-nonsense, reality-based insights, not platitudes and mushy-gushy pats on the back. His advice and counsel pertains to just about any creative activity. He shifts easily from painters to authors to musicians as he provides is down-to-earth examples and discussions. We get the sense that he’s “been-there-done-that,” or that his patients have. Sometimes his insights will hit so close to home that readers will look around and ask “has he been hiding in my home—is he following me around?”

As the title promises, the book is arranged to offer nine “keys”:

  • The Mind Key
  • The Confidence Key
  • The Passion Key
  • The Freedom Key
  • The Stress Key
  • The Empathy Key
  • The Relationship key
  • The Identity Key
  • The Societial Key

Different readers will undoubtedly find themselves more drawn to different keys. I found food for thought in all of them. But for me, the three that stood out were “The Mind Key,” “The Stress Key,” and “The Relationship Key.” “The Mind Key” addresses quieting an overly busy mind, how to calm that busy mind and focus it (lack of focus has been identified as one of my own “issues.”) “The Stress Key” is a nuts-and-bolts chapter about the uncomfortable, yes—stress inducing—aspects of being a creative person. This is one of the chapters where we know he is been there and done that as he goes into the specific stressors: “economic stress,” “marketplace stress,” “relationship stress,” “world stress,” “creative stress,” “existential stress,” “physical stress,” and “psychological stress.” “The Relationship Key” gives us “fifteen sensible rules for marketplace relating.” Rule number one—“you can’t succeed in the marketplace without the help of others.” The rules build from there, with practical suggestions on how to establish and nurture the relationships you develop a creative person.

From Dr. Maisel’s background, it is evident he is one of the creative types he is trying to help. We can imagine he has grappled with these issues himself. As one of us, he has a lot to offer, and he has with Making Your Creative Mark. If you are a creative type and feel that no one understands your peculiar challenges, Dr. Maisel will give you the empowering realization that you are not alone, and that you can overcome those challenges that come with being a creative human being.

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By the way, feel free to contact me (RichardWarrenField@RichardWarrenField.com) if you are a creative person and you want to swap some thoughts and ideas with another creative person!

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Recent blog post about Creative Attention Deficit Disorder.

Book Commentary/Review – STANCE OF WONDER by Mark Rodell March 24, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, climbing, Mark Rodell, novels, Stance of Wonder, Thailand, Yosemite.
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Stance of Wonder by Mark Rodell is an engaging novel that tells the fictional biography of virtuoso climber Conrad Flowers. The book delivers authentic detail surrounding various climbing adventures reflecting Rodell’s own experiences and intimate knowledge of climbing. But like any good novel, Stance of Wonder is about more than climbing. It is about fascinating characters and their intertwined lives, and about ideas that provoke consideration of larger themes.

We meet Conrad Flowers in adolescence during the 1960s as he faces the consequences of losing his parents in a climbing accident. He joins his eccentric uncle in the mountains of eastern California where he comes of age moving back and forth between Bishop and Yosemite. He hones his climbing skills in Yosemite, building a reputation, and building friendships with a cast of characters whose stories also resonate with quirky details. This cast includes the ballerina from San Francisco, with a Bolivian father and Russian mother, who comes to Yosemite and falls in love with climbing. Rodell draws us into these characters, and has us wondering how they will come together, suspecting we will follow them into young adulthood and see how they will mature from their colorful teen backgrounds. But Stance of Wonder does not stay on that predictable course. Because successful novels are also about plot.

About two-thirds of the way through, Stance of Wonder takes off in a totally unanticipated direction. Conrad Flowers finds himself assaulted with a catastrophe that threatens to destroy the essence of who he is. At first he seems to succumb to the terrible blow life has dealt him. But from the verge of imminent death, with an apathetic Flowers far from the mountains he loves to climb, sinking into reckless self-destruction, he emerges with his core intact. Stance of Wonder then shifts back to where we suspected we were going in the first place, but taking us on a ride we had not anticipated. Conrad Flowers’ life concludes in the only way possible for this character, but with an ending satisfying for its eccentric flourishes and exotic setting.

There is an element of understatement, of sublime subtlety in Rodell’s style of narrative and story-telling that brings extra intensity and power to the events and internal lives of the characters. Rodell illuminates the Conrad Flowers character through the eyes of a narrator telling his fictional biography. Rodell also uses fictional journal entries and letters to delve deeper into the internal insights of the characters. Stance of Wonder will appeal to readers who like a good story dealing with life’s detours and the struggle to overcome the consequences those detours create. And climbing enthusiasts should have a hard time putting it down!

Full disclosure: Mark Rodell was a close high school friend of mine, but a friend I lost contact with for nearly forty years as our lives spun off in completely different directions. Through the connective power of the internet, we recently reestablished contact, though Mark lives over 8,000 miles away from me in Thailand. As Mark pointed out during our recent exchanges, we both ended up embracing writing—we apparently shared a common connection with this form of expression though neither of us hinted at this during our high school friendship. I am genuinely thrilled to spread the word about Stance of Wonder—though he is my friend, I would not write so glowingly about his writing if I did not mean every word.

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Amazon link to the paperback edition:

http://www.amazon.com/Stance-Of-Wonder-Literary-climbling/dp/1477667148/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1364062130&sr=8-2

Commentary/Review – “The Unanswered Question,” Presented by Leonard Bernstein March 14, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, classical music, Leonard Bernstein, music, music commentary, tonality, Unanswered Question.
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(This is the twelfth of a series of commentaries about a series of books about the nature of music. The other commentaries of this series are listed below. This series has been triggered as a result of my rediscovery of the love of creating and performing music. There is definitely a spiritual connection to this rediscovery, evidenced by my recent release of “Issa Music” and my posts about mystical/spiritual aspects of the music of the progressive rock group Yes (The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans” and The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes). This further relates to spiritual meditations with the theme of more than one path to God, and the possible coming together of both physics and metaphysics I and II and a discussion of Dr. Eben Alexander’s recent book, Proof of Heaven).

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In “The Unanswered Question,” the famed conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein takes on ultimate conceptual questions of music. He frames his study in the context of what he calls a “crisis” in music, and takes the title of his study from the Charles Ives piece of the same name.  The Ives piece reportedly asks a metaphysical question; Bernstein puts the question into a musical context. At the end, he decides he is not sure what this “Unanswered Question” is, but decides the answer is “yes”—yes to music, and yes to other arts (with an emphasis on poetry).

“The Unanswered Question” was a series of lectures delivered at Harvard in 1973. In 1976, Bernstein released these lectures in a book, slightly edited, with printed musical examples. There are DVDs available of the lectures full of musical examples including a complete performances of classical works played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Bernstein himself. I absorbed this study in both formats. The lectures address Bernstein’s perceived Twentieth Century “crisis” in music, a crisis over tonality—I’d say a crisis of accessibility to what might be called “concert music/serious music/classical music.” Bernstein looks for universalities in music, the subject of my own series of blog posts (see below). Bernstein finds parallels with universalities in linguistics, and refers liberally to the important linguist Noam Chomsky. At times, this comparison is strained (at times Bernstein even admits it), but some insights are developed. As part of his search for universalities, he goes into the physics of music, helpful material that reinforces much thinking about these musical conceptual issues. He spends a lot of time analyzing recent (within the last three centuries) Western “classical” music, using brilliant insights to frame the “crisis” he refers to.

Another thought about Leonard Bernstein before I look at the six lectures individually—Leonard Bernstein lectures in two to three hour sessions, consulting some notes, but clearly without a word-for-word text of the lecture. He speaks for long uninterrupted periods in perfect, often eloquent sentences, with only a very rare (maybe less than five in all the lectures) stammer or “uh” or “um.” He sprinkles in piano demonstrations with ease, rendering complex musical passages as if they are not much more than a shrug of the shoulders. This is a brilliant man—was a brilliant man. It is part of the crisis he speaks of—evidence of the crisis— that when I went to college and studied music (1972-1976) Bernstein was generally regarded as a trivial figure, a sort of pop-classical musician worthy of little attention. I realize now this attitude was part of the problem he himself was elaborating at the same time I was experiencing the effects of it as a young music creator! I was in the midst of this snobby elitism, of composers writing obscure, deliberately dissonant, unfathomable music for each other—the idea of wanting a larger audience was considered tasteless and banal. I must express my belated admiration for this talented man.

Lecture 1 – Music Phonology

  • In this lecture, Bernstein gives us a heavy dose of linguistics, comparing the essence of language with the essence of music. He offers the concept that music is “heightened speech” as justification for the comparison. He describes this “heightened speech” that is music as universal among humans. I find the “heightened speech” idea compelling. Speech offers communication at one level—music cranks up that aural communication channel into something above and beyond language. Bernstein goes into universal aspects of music. He describes the tonic-dominant relationship as derived from the overtone series, from the first three notes (the first two being the fundamental—in C, it would be C, C an octave up, then G, the dominant of the scale). He uses the overtone series to explain the cross-cultural prevalence of pentatonic scales, found from Japan to Scotland, from blues to Gregorian Chant, and the summoning sometimes haunting motive of the descending major third. He even gives a convincing explanation of “blue notes,” that fuzzy major/minor third found in American blues scales, but evident in different ways in other cultures. This “blue” note derives from high up in the overtone scale, at a point not easily heard directly, with the actual note of the overtone series somewhere between a major sixth and a minor seventh above the fundamental. He also explains why there are twelve tones in the conventional chromatic scale, using the circle of fifths, the journey through dominant-tonic shifts until our arrival back at the original (the explanation requires an equal-temperament scale).

Lecture 2 – Musical Syntax

  • Bernstein’s search for commonalities between music and language continues. He starts into what to me is a forced attempt to relate elements of music to elements of language: note = letter, scale = alphabet. He also relates triadic inversions to Chomsky’s ideas of linguistic transformation—again, this seemed strained to me. The triad itself is not found universally. This starts us down the path to Western exclusivity to a viewpoint that can only serve to make universal conclusions more difficult to reach. Bernstein does point out that music is more like poetry than like prose, and makes comparisons to poetry throughout his lectures. And when Bernstein makes broader comparisons and analogies between language and music, the ideas are more helpful for developing insights into the universal common denominators of music. Language has its universal elements—words, parts of speech, sentences; and music has its universal elements—notes, some form of scale or mode, and some form of harmony whether through chords or through a sense of unity in the way notes of a scale or mode interact. He ends this lecture with an analysis of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor. He relates his analysis to the linguistic terminology, but we start to move into an examination of “Western” music, which will take us to Bernstein’s elaboration of the Twentieth Century crisis in music.

Lecture 3 – Musical Semantics

  • Bernstein introduces the idea that “ambiguity” is the key to great art, especially music, though he includes the written word and even to the “Mona Lisa” painting as examples. I think this is an insightful idea for artists of all sorts, but especially for musicians—musicians using all styles of expression. It’s that ambiguity that allows the music to go one way or the other, so creates uncertainty, suspense—attention-getting, attention-keeping tactics. He discusses the use of “deletion” to keep music fresh, the idea of yanking out a predictable repetition to avoid the risk of tedium and to create more “ambiguities.” In this lecture, Bernstein also explains why the minor triad seems “sad”—the intervals are further out on the overtone scale. I’m not sure of this explanation, but I haven’t uncovered a better one. The minor mode permeates music all over the world. To me, there must be a better explanation. It could be that the major third is susceptible to that “blue note” idea mentioned earlier. But I’m not sure that’s enough of an explanation either.

Lecture Four – The Delights and Dangers of Ambiguity

  • Bernstein delves deeply into recent Western musical history, describing the growing development of chromaticism. I found the analysis of Western music fascinating, but drifting off the subject I am trying to study—the search for the universal nature of music, and how that might relate to the melding of physics and metaphysics. I felt the analogies to poetry were forced. I found Bernstein at his best and most helpful to me when he returned to the overtone system as an explanation of the attractiveness of tonality.

Lecture 5 – The Twentieth Century Crisis

  • Bernstein links the “challenge” of tonality to historical events (again with a Western focus)—World War I and the coming of fascism. He describes music as becoming overly long, overly complex, overly chromatic—overly ambiguous. He indicates this crisis led to a potential “collapse” of tonality. He relates the issue again to linguistics, describing tonality as “syntactic clarity” and atonality as “syntactic confusion.” He describes Schoenberg, considered the originator of the system of atonal music, the twelve-tone row or serial music, as eventually concluding that atonality was not possible. Schoenberg even admitted his drive to return to tonal writing from time-to-time! Bernstein points out perhaps the most successful, most performed student of Schoenberg’s serial twelve-tone system was Alban Berg, and Berg appeared to deliberately design tone rows shaped in triads. Those triads were bound to create a tonal resonance with listeners even in the twelve-tone, equal-weight-to-each-note (that was the concept) system. Bernstein goes on to look at Mahler’s Ninth Symphony that he describes as 1) the death of Mahler (he did die soon after writing it) 2) the death of tonality and 3) the death of music. I’m going to describe his crisis in a different way. Music creators came to believe there was nothing new to say—no new direction to take music. There were only so many notes, only so many ways to handle a chord or a mode. As chromaticism spun into exotic directions, composers feared a loss of control as well as a loss of new creative terrain. So a new system of music composition needed to be invented to break new ground, to open new frontiers for music. Frankly, I’ve dismissed this idea previously. Cultural context is always changing, so there are always new avenues for music expression. This is one of the most definitive discoveries of my journey through different musical contexts, past and present. (I’ve discussed this in my previous post, “Book Commentary/Review – Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin.”) But this perceived crisis brought on the tone-row serialists, and other experimentation with atonality. In my opinion, this is now running its course, as music creators realize this perceived crisis was a giant collective illusion. Ironically, and gratifyingly, these atonal techniques are now available for every music creator to utilize in his or her musical vision. The door is open to yet even more possibilities. But tonality is ingrained and hovers over all of these musical avenues.

Lecture Six – Poetry of Earth

  • Bernstein discusses “sincerity” in this lecture, whether composers mean to convey the emotions, the feelings, their music evokes. He mentions Stravinsky and his hostility to the idea that music conveys feelings. Frankly, I don’t care. I did not find this to be a useful tangent. I don’t see the intention of the composer as making any difference. The music creator can have the intention of conveying specific feelings or the music can just stand as it is. No feelings? “The Rite of Spring” conveys passionate feelings—a girl dances herself to death as part of a primitive religious rite—an attempt to connect to the Divine. Maybe Stravinsky created this music with a detached, unemotional heart. But the music is passionate—it conveys feelings—it would be absurd to argue otherwise. Bernstein spends much of this lecture on Stravinsky. He clearly considers Stravinsky to have the answer to the so-called “crisis”—and makes a convincing case. Stravinsky uses poly-tonality and poly-rhythms to bring new musical expression while maintaining a tonal concept. Stravinsky reaches around the world and into the past to meld many styles into his music. He is the embodiment of what I describe as the continually shifting cultural context that makes options for musical expression inexhaustible, even within a tonal, twelve-note, chromatic-scale setting. Bernstein focuses on Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex,” comparing parts of it to Verdi’s “Aida.” This is more highly “Western”-specific analysis. “Oedipus Rex” itself is an operatic composition—not normally my cup of tea. But some of the choral harmonies are breathtakingly beautiful. After presenting “Oedipus Rex,” at the end of the DVD, Bernstein offers a short statement. In the book, Bernstein goes on at length, expanding his original lecture, tying together semantics and music. At one point he even refers to “Along Comes Mary” by the Association and “the musical adventures of Simon and Garfunkel” as being more desirable to him musically than music written by so-called “avante-garde” composers. Bernstein ends the DVD saying “I believe a new eclecticism is at hand.” Bernstein goes on to express a list of beliefs deriving from these lectures in a solemn, serious tone, in a litany. “No matter how serial or stochastic, or otherwise intellectualized music may be, it can always qualify as poetry as long as it is rooted in earth.” He goes on to say “I believe from the Earth emerges a musical poetry, which is by the nature of its sources tonal. I believe that the sources cause to exist a phonology of music, which evolves from the universal known as the harmonic series.” After listing some further beliefs he concludes by saying “and finally, I believe that because all these things are true, Ives’ unanswered question has an answer. I’m no longer quite sure what the question is, but I do know that the answer is “yes.”

It is gratifying to me that this brilliant recent thinker about music drew some of the same conclusions I have, decades later. There is an ingrained, inborn tonal orientation in the way humans perceive music—a wired-in tonality. Even when composers attempt to muddy, obscure or even eliminate tonality, human ears will naturally search for a tonal center to orient them to the musical experience. Bernstein defends this idea using his incredibly wide knowledge of music and culture, and I believe his viewpoint, a viewpoint I’ve seen dismissed by some, will ultimately prevail. This set of lectures then will become a treatise for the years to come— particularly for music creators of Western “concert/serious/classical” music. (More of my thinking on this subject is in my essay “Is ‘Classical Music’ Fading Into Obscurity?”)

There is one last post to come on this admittedly huge topic that grew on me, exploded on me. In that post, I will attempt to tie all of this together, the universal nature of music, with human consciousness, physics and metaphysics. That’s all—not too ambitious…

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Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII
Part IX
Part X

Book Commentary on COLLIDER by Chris Hejmanowski March 1, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in afterlife, book review, books, Chris Hejmanowski, Collider, consciousness, metaphysics, novel, novel review, spirituality.
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Collider, written by Chris Hejmanowski, is a novel that makes an ambitious attempt to blend physics and metaphysics (an idea I have been playing with since I predicted a completed union of the two by the year 3000 in my essay published in on-line journal “New Works Review” – “Predictions for the Next Millennium”). From my perspective, for my priorities, Collider spends more time on the imagery of heaven and hell in the afterlife, and on the demons in hell, than on the science. But the attempt to link the two is present and stimulates thought processes toward this grand, for some unthinkable, unification. So I am commenting about this book today, recommending it to people interested in this subject.

Collider is the story of particle physicist Fin Canty, on the verge of a trip to the CERN particle collider to evaluate what may be a seminal particle physics discovery when he is killed in what appears to be random gang violence. (As the novel unfolds, we find out Canty’s death was not random at all.) His post-death choice to leave heaven to pursue his toddler daughter, who has ended up in hell after being killed as a result of the same gang violence, brings him into contact with vivid, horrifying imagery and sensations. The result of his efforts to rescue his innocent daughter burst forth into the consciousness of living humanity with the potential of creating a bridge between science and the Divine.

Within the action of Fin Canty’s struggle in the afterlife, and the investigations of the still-living characters into Fin Canty’s murder and its aftermath, Hejmanowski addresses issues of faith and belief. The strength of Fin Canty’s faith serves him well. But faith also warps some of the other characters’ motivations and behaviors. Faith and belief are very much double-edged swords for Good or Evil in Collider.

Collider is a vivid, suspense-filled story set within cutting-edge physics suggesting a union between science and religion—entertaining and thought-provoking simultaneously.

Also/Afterthought: I enjoyed the quote at the beginning of Hejmanowski’s novel from Albert Einstein: “Reality is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” I think this quote reflects the human limitations of perceiving reality. We are only capable of perceiving what is available to our own three/four dimensional space/time frame of reference. I would not use the word “illusion,” unless we want to call reality a shared illusion. I have read that cats occupy the same locales as their pet-owners, but experience a very different reality with different focuses and priorities. This is “relativity” demonstrated at its most basic level. I think we humans face the same issue. But, it is a persistent reality we occupy—even if we understand we may not perceive what other consciousnesses perceive, this is what we have! Perhaps a more accurate quote would be: “Reality may shift depending upon the perceptive capabilities of the consciousness experiencing it, but we have only our own perceptive tools available, so are stuck with reality the way it is.” On second thought—Einstein, yours is simpler, and more elegant!

I explore these issues in other blog posts on this subject:

Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness – August 30, 2011

Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness II – October 7, 2011

Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness – Commentary on Dr. Eben Alexander’s book Proof of Heaven – February 1, 2013

Book Commentary/Review – THE BURNING CANDLE by Lisa Yarde February 16, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, historical fiction, Lisa Yarde, medieval period.
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The Burning Candle by Lisa Yarde is a compelling historical novel recreating the life of Isabel de Vermandois, a young woman who finds herself thrust into the early days of Norman rule over newly conquered England—just before the era of Ken Follette’s Pillars of the Earth. Yarde brings accurate history and informed speculation together with a mastery of plot and dialogue to offer an entertaining and informative read.

The Burning Candle is historical fiction/biography. We follow Isabel de Vermandois’ life from pre-pubescence to middle age—every event is depicted from her point-of-view. This brings us deeply into her character. We feel her frustration with her parents’ abuse and her frustration as her life seems but a tool for others, with Isabel having no control over what her life will be. Here she is, with regal blood coursing through her veins, with talent and intelligence, but subject to the whims and desires of others, mainly older men. At first her marriage to a man her father’s age seems an improvement in her situation. But it is actually a descent into torment as her husband hides a life-affecting secret, and brutalizes her in ways that make her parents look benign in comparison.

Years later, after giving birth to a number of male heirs for older husband, she finds herself finally with a choice, a choice brought to her with a daring move made by a man she had reviled as nearly evil incarnate. Does Isabel finally make her own choice, or does she succumb to duty? This is the dramatic question at the climax of The Burning Candle.

Lisa Yarde demonstrates a command of her craft as she weaves an entertaining story out of a lesser-known bit of history. The depth of her research is evident in the detailed historical note at the end of The Burning Candle. If you are a reader looking for a slice of history presented in an entertaining way, every bit as worthy as a book by masters like Sharon Kay Penman or Elizabeth Chadwick, The Burning Candle will be a great choice for your next book to read.

Book Commentary/Review – THE CONTESSA’S VENDETTA by Mirella Patzer February 10, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, historical fiction, medieval period, Mirella Patzer.
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The Contessa’s Vendetta by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer is a well-crafted story of love-betrayed, revenge-realized, with twists and turns for readers who will know where they are going, but will not get there along the path they expect. The novel is great escapist entertainment, giving readers a completely convincing immersion into an exotic past time and place.

The main character is the good-hearted but also naïve and gullible Contessa Carlotta Mancini. She is sauntering through her comfortable life when she contracts the plague. In a matter of hours, she is given up for dead and buried in the family crypt. The only problem is—she is not dead! She extricates herself from her internment and returns to her home only to discover that her husband and best friend are not and never have been the loving companions she thought they were. In fact, both of these characters, the closest companions of her life, are quite despicable creatures, who have been betraying the contessa for years with casual malice. This allows readers to enjoy what the countess hatches to right the wrongs.

Two quirks of fate give Countess Carlotta her chance to take her time with her plot to carry out her vendetta. Her ordeal with the plague has changed her appearance enough to disguise her from those who knew her before, and she stumbles onto the resources needed to execute her plan. As Countess Carlotta’s plan evolves, readers will turn pages to find out exactly how she will enforce her revenge. And the unredeeming nature of the countess’s husband and best friend magnifies as the story unfolds, goading readers into wishing for the revenge to pay off. With the craft of a story-teller in command of her art, Patzer masterfully weaves the deeper discovery of the natures of these characters into the approaching moment of the contessa’s final justice.

The Contessa’s Vendetta climaxes with the full blossoming of Contessa Carlotta’s revenge. But the ending leaves us asking if anyone really won, or if Contessa Carlotta simply lost less severely. With this question reverberating, Patzer’s novel concludes with a deeper question—does revenge, even a just one, ever really balance the scales?

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part X December 19, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in American Indian, Andrew Shahriari, blues, book review, books, Canada, ethnomusicology, jazz, music, United States, world music.
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I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VII
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VIII
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IX

PART TEN
Canada and the United States

General Comments: This is the music of my home. I enjoy very much the focus on folk traditions, not on current pop or even concert/classical music which I can experience from other sources. And I found some surprises here. A few of the selections focused on what were obviously Celtic traditions that came to the United States and Canada with the Scottish, Irish and English. In this music, we find the some of the same elements from other traditions, like pentatonic scales—yes, the same pentatonic scales we find in many varied cultures. We also hear some good examples of African-influenced music, and two examples of American Indian music. All of this serves to remind me of the huge stew of musical influences already simmering together, and that my desire to do some more melding is in the tradition of my own home culture. Also, elements of this music help the study of music, physics and metaphysics, and the idea of what might be universal in how humans experience music, and what might be culture-specific.

CD 3, Track 17 from World Music: A Global Journey
Canada: CapeBreton Fiddling
This is a basic Scottish/Irish sounding violin ditty. It features a quick triplet rhythm in a minor key, going from i to VII with no hints of the raised 7 found in the conventional harmonic minor scale. The melody cruises along in seconds and thirds, cadencing on a triplet followed by a quarter note, 3-1-1 – 1.

CD 3, Track 18 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States of America: Ballad-Singing
A solo female voice sings a single line melody in a minor key. It migrates up to III, then winds back to cadence on i. The scale/mode is quite similar to the mode used in the little ditty of the previous selection. Even the singer’s accent feels Scottish/Irish. The end cadence is 4-3-1, also a similar move to the 3-1-1 cadence in the previous selection.

CD 3, Track 19 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Old Regular Baptist Lined Hymn
This is a choral piece in a major mode, but with a pentatonic feel. There is a soloist and a solo-response feel like some of the African vocal music. There is no real structured rhythm—the lead vocalist sets whatever rhythm there is based on his rendering of the words. The chorus seems to follow, echoing the soloist.

CD 3, Track 20 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Singing School Shape-Note Music
A chorus sings in a natural minor mode, with a flat 7, no hint of a raised 7 at any point. This music has a very specific rhythm and imitative style, with eighth note figures articulating the rhythm. There is a raw, unrefined quality to the voices that makes this music feel very basic.

CD 3, Track 21 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Bluegrass
This music features a driving 4/4 rhythm with a basic I-IV-I-V progression, laid out by a plucked banjo, mandolin, fiddle/violin and bass. High voices harmonize in tight third/fourths (fit to the chord) rendering the song’s melody. Between the vocal sections, different instruments pop out with solos over the chords. There is no percussion in this ensemble. The bass and mandolin lay out the rhythm most of the time. I was really surprised to learn that this music comes from the mid Twentieth Century, after jazz, blues, and not long before rock.

CD 3, Track 22 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: African-American Spiritual
This is vocal music in a pentatonic scale, but with a muddy, blues third. There is a soloist, but this isn’t really call-and-response music. There is a trudging feel to this music. This song is in a slow three. There is a clear move to 2 (which implies V) just before the ending cadence on 1. There’s also a move to 4 at the outset. So we have a basic I-IV-I-V-I feel.

CD 3, Track 23 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: African-American Gospel Choir
Here we have a peppy rhythm offered by an organ, with the bass from the organ driving the rhythm at key points. Handclaps join in from the chorus about midway through. This song is in a major key, but the chords are varied with a II7 chord and some other minor chords supplementing the major key primary chords. These chords often move in rapid succession. The melody line is simple so the melody can be sung by many untrained voices together. The harmonic underpinnings are more complex and challenging than the melody line.

CD 3, Track 24 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Country Blues
This song gives us the familiar twelve-bar blues, with just a guitar and voice, the way the songs were originally sung. We get a melody phrase twice followed by a third phrase. There is also a point where a variation on the melody adds more lyrics.

CD 3, Track 25 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States/“Nuyorican” (New York City): Salsa
This music sounds Caribbean or South American. We have the recognizable rhythm of the downbeat on one and a pickup from off of two. There are lots of percussion instruments driving the pulse of the music. The bass anchors it. Complex arrangements of brass and woodwinds with prominent flute lines move around the melody. Harmony/chord progressions are adventurous, with the melody sometimes outside the chord. At the beginning, after brass sounding like a train whistle, there is an intro section that goes I to ii to iii then in to flat chords in a circle of fifths to get back to I. Another distinctive feature is the individual piano line in rhythm, arpeggiating the chord structures, as if staking out a middle ground between percussion and pitched instruments.

CD 3, Track 26 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Cajun Music
This music features pounding straight rhythms with a fiddle/violin and accordion. There are strong downbeats with eighths and sixteenths also pushing the pace. There is little syncopation in this music. A whiny, high-pitched vocalist sings the melody, which is then restated by the fiddle and accordion-type instrument. The chord structure is very simple, I to V to I. But there is something captivating about the pure emotion reflected in this music. And despite the accordion, this music does not sound solely European. Unlike the tango example from the previous post on South America and Mexico, there is something distinctively American about this music. This is probably due to the fiddle sound, and the Southern twang of the voice, with a hint of a French accent, but clearly not French.

CD 3, Track 27 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Plains Indian Dance Song
A drum beat drives the rhythm of this simple song, almost like a heartbeat with a quarter followed by eighth/three feel. The chant is very simple, in a major pentatonic scale. It starts up high and descends to a final resting place at 1. In fact, the initial note starts at an octave higher than the final cadence note. There are occasional lingerings at other scale levels, but the end of the vocal phrase always gravitates down to 1.

CD 3, Track 28 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Native American Flute
A beautiful flute sound plays a major key pentatonic mode in this piece. The sound is like a recorder, but does not sound quite as delicate. The line also seems to float down to a cadence at 1, similar to the previous selection, but with more excursions than the vocal music. In fact, the passage starts with an octave leap on the 5. And this excerpt ends on 5 (though it clearly is an excerpt).

Personal Compositional Note: I am not sure why, but I loved the thumping basic drive of the Cajun music and will look for way to bring it in to my own work. I’m clearly already influenced by blues and jazz that are native to my country. This Cajun music seems every bit as basic as the blues with the same soul/deep-level feelings. It couldn’t be much more different from the blues, which makes it even more fun that it is also part of my culture. I’m thinking there is a way to incorporate those characteristics into some music of mine in the future. The Native American flute sound would also make a nice melody line instrument. The use of the piano as a combination percussion and pitched rhythm instrument by having it arpeggiate a chord in rhythm, like the salsa music, is also an idea to bring in to other music contexts. Of course, I am already familiar with many of these styles of music, and know they are already part of my own musical vocabulary. But it was nice to arrive “home” again after these stops all over the planet and find some fresh musical angles.

This is the final post of this series within a series. The next post will be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question. I believe my thoughts on his ideas about music will be more insightful now that I have completed this musical journey, courtesy of Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari.

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IX December 16, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Amazon, Andrew Shahriari, Argentina, book review, books, Brazil, ethnomusicology, Mexico, music, Peru, South America, world music.
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I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VII
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VIII

PART NINE
South America and Mexico: The Amazon Rainforest, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico

General Comments: As in the Caribbean, discussed in the previous post, we have a blend of styles from different places. Brazilian music combines African and European music. Some other examples seem almost completely European. And, we have examples of Amazonian and Peruvian panpipe music which appear to predate European or African music.

CD 3, Track 11 from World Music: A Global Journey
Brazil: Amazonian Chant
This is totally rudimentary music—no drums, no pitched instruments, just male voices. They chant a pitch, then bend the pitch down, then speak rhythmically, then return to the original pitch. There are no scales, no melodies, no harmonies. This is interesting music because it is music at a very basic level. It can serve to help us understand the nature of music for humans, but there is not much for me to latch onto for my own future music projects.

CD 3, Track 12 from World Music: A Global Journey
Peru: Sikuri (Panpipe) Ensemble
This piece sounds like a panpipe marching band. The rhythm emanates from a quick-paced driving bass drum on down beats, skipping an occasional downbeat, but never enough to lose the momentum of the rhythm. The simple melodic line is a pentatonic minor scale—there is no 7 to distinguish it as harmonic or natural minor. The melodic line is harmonized by other panpipes playing other parts of the pentatonic scale. This music would be easily grasped by “Oriental” or Celtic cultures. Because of the pentatonic scales and the flute instruments, the music has a universal feel. Those scales and that instrumental sound can be found almost everywhere. This music may provide an example of universal human music.

CD 3, Track 13 from World Music: A Global Journey
Argentina: Tango
An accordion plays a minor key “Western” theme that could be from a Paris café as much as from South America. This example, with a solo accordion, does not seem rhythmic enough to be dance music. I suspect there are better examples of the tango to listen to. (I am not that concerned about finding a better example of the tango for my study of this subject or for my future music projects.)

CD 3, Track 14 from World Music: A Global Journey
Brazil: Samba
The rhythm is the huge defining factor for this music. We have a strong beat one, with an eighth note pickup to a strong three. The two and four also drive the beat, functioning as strong after-beats. The exotic chord progressions add to the effect. We certainly have a tonic, and a basic tonality. But the chords do not come in simple triads, and the moves are smooth but adventurous, not I-IV-V-I type moves. Common tones bridge what on paper could seem to be unrelated chords. I love the rhythm and the chord-moves as something to emulate in some of my own music.

CD 3, Track 15 from World Music: A Global Journey
Brazil: Capoeira
This is much more basic music from Brazil. It sounds African, with a solo-response concept. Drums, including almost Gamelan sounding percussion, back up the male chorus. The melodic line is three notes, starting on 3 of a major scale, moving to 1 then back up to 3. This repeats as a basic melodic chant with a soloist moving in and around it. The metallic percussion seems to sound 5 to 4 to 5 of the scale, but the pitches are indistinct. And like the samba, there are some eighth note pickups within the rhythm that give it a fresh exotic feel.

CD 3, Track 16 from World Music: A Global Journey
Mexico: Mariachi
This music is like a fast waltz in a major key, moving through a number of chords with a basic I-IV-V-I feel. The B section moves briefly to the V as a key center, using II7 to get there. But it slips back to I quickly. The harmonic structure is tonal/Western European. The Spanish vocalist and the trumpets chattering in thirds identify this as distinctly mariachi music.

Personal Compositional Note: The rhythms of the samba and capoeira music are enticing to me as I meld styles. I also love the sound of the Peruvian panpipes. This could all end up in music I will create in the future. The Brazilian music reminds me of the Caribbean fusion of African and European music, though they do manifest this fusion in slightly different ways.

The next and final post of this series within a series will move to Canada and the United States.

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VIII December 13, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, Bahamas, book review, books, Caribbean, Cuba, Dominican Republic, ethnomusicology, Haiti, Jamaica, music, Trinidad and Tobago, world music.
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add a comment

I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

PART EIGHT
The Caribbean: Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, The Bahamas, Cuba, The Dominican Republic

General Comments: This music is already a melding of disparate international styles—African with European/Spanish styles. We have complex rhythms underpinning “Western” tonality. This can be diatonic harmonies, and also the exotic modes and instruments of some of the music of Spain, including Arabic-tinged modes and instruments.

CD 3, Track 4 from World Music: A Global Journey
Haiti: Vodou Ritual
The solo-response African concept permeates this selection. It is raw and emotional, with a single thin voice emoting, backed up by a mixed ensemble with percussion instruments and a few “bamboo trumpet aerophones.” The melody lines derive from a pentatonic scale, in some places with moves reminiscent of a blues scale. The drums pound out a steady complex beat. The second half slows in tempo. The tonality appears to be the same, but the aerophone emphasizes a different pitch in the scale, making it feel even poly-tonal briefly.

CD 3, Track 5 from World Music: A Global Journey
Jamaica: Reggae
This is a familiar style to any casual listener of “Western” pop music, a style that has influenced “Western” pop artists and has also been popular on its own. This song is a tribute to Bob Marley by reggae artist Carlos Jones. The distinctive identifying feature is the off-of-the-beat rhythm section chords following the downbeat in either a quarter notes or eighth notes. The timbale fills at the edges of phrases in eighths and sixteenths. This is basically a I-IV vamp with a B section that slips briefly away, landing in V before going back to I-IV again. The instruments are “Western” pop—drum kit, bass, electric guitar, electric organ, with flourishes of exotic drum sounds added. The drum kit uses rim shots as opposed to snare hits, giving the music a lighter style than a typical rock song. The drum kit acts as a background anchor, a straight man for other, mostly subtle percussive effects.

CD 3, Track 6 from World Music: A Global Journey
Trinidad: Calypso
The vocals dominate, giving a philosophical statement in melody, but with the words clearly intended to be more important than the melody. This is a sung recitation over music. The instruments could be playing classical chamber music (except for guitar, bass and congas—but they all offer a quiet background rhythm). We have a piano, clarinet, trumpet and violin sounding melody lines and fills, sometimes in unison, sometimes in counterpoint. The music is minor-key tonal, slipping to the relative major for the B section before a strong V takes us unambiguously back to the minor key.

CD 3, Track 7 from World Music: A Global Journey
Trinidad: Steel Band
This is one of the most fun and distinctive Caribbean sounds. We have a percussion sound that plays pitches. These pitches can be used to play all sorts of music. Their detuned sound gives the notes a rich, exotic timbre. The sound doesn’t sustain, so tremolos and trills are needed to sustain longer chords. This selection is a I-IV-I-V little ditty that seems to capture the basic feel of the sound, the “standard” feel. But the timbre of this sound brings incredible possibilities, both on its own and as hybrid sounds realized electronically or by doubling.

CD 3, Track 8 from World Music: A Global Journey
Bahamas: Rhyming Spiritual
World Music: A Global Journeytells us that “Tories” fled the newly formed United States and took their black slaves with them to the Bahamas. This music lets us know they took their “negro spiritual sound” as well. This is the African solo-response concept. A solo voice sings out a line, and follows through on the song words while a small chorus of voices sings a repeated refrain. There is no percussion or other instruments. The cadences alternate between resting on the 1 and 5 of the scale. The scale is a major scale, but sometimes fuzzes the third, giving us a blues feel. When the lead vocalist reaches for the 7 of the scale, he hits a flat seven, giving us a Mixolydian blues feel at times.

CD 3, Track 9 from World Music: A Global Journey
Cuba: Son
Here is a clear blending of Spanish and African. Drums pound out a strong rhythm in four, with complex timbale rhythms filling the sound. The guitar gives this a Spanish feel, as well as the words in Spanish! A wailing, almost whining trumpet moves in and around the vocal lines. There is room for improvisation, sort of jazzy, but not totally. We have a long guitar solo that recalls flamenco and jazz. The tonality is harmonic minor, with a natural 7 and the flat 6. The vocal harmonies are in thirds. The i minor becomes a I7 to move to iv, then to II7 to go to V7 and back to I. The unambiguous third of the V7 chord gives us the melodic minor scale.

CD 3, Track 10 from World Music: A Global Journey
Dominican Republic: Merengue
We have a quick tempo here, in four, with accents on two and four. An accordion underpins the solo-response feel of the vocals. The chords are simple V-I, over and over. The accordion breaks into florid but simple scale lines during a break for a solo. The percussion instruments provide lots of motion, lots of notes, to bring energy and drive to the selection. This again is a blend of African and Spanish/Western European influences.

Personal Compositional Note: I love the steel drum sound, a distinctly Caribbean contribution to the world’s musical palette. I will be using that sound as part of the new music I will be creating. Also, there is a lot to learn from the way musical styles have melded in these Caribbean examples. The Cuban music brings together African rhythms with “Western” tonality and language. The example of the Dominican Republic merenge has an accordion playing joyfully over syncopated African type drums. The Caribbean example is an invitation to try anything—nothing is out of bounds.

The next post will move to South America and Mexico.

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VII

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl