Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Grandaddy of Electronic Instruments

Ever heard of an instrument called the theremin? Well, if you haven't it'd be a good one to remember in case you're ever on Jeopardy, because it's a rather significant development in the advent of electronic music, in my opinion. It was invented by a physicist, actually, in the 1920s named Leon Theremin and was the product of a government-sponsored research project on proximity sensors. See, you don't ever actually touch the theremin to play it. Instead, you just sort of hover your hands over it and move them back and forth and up and down changing pitch and volume. So, just think what people would have thought of this thing back in the 1920s: "Oooooh! Super-futuristic magic! It's the cat's meow!" -or something like that.

So Theremin demonstrated his instrument to Vladamir Lenin, who promptly began taking lessons and sent Theremin off on a world tour, showing off his instrument (while at the same time doing some undercover reconnaissance for Russia in the U.S. -you know, multitasking). The theremin was shortly after manufactured for public use, because surely, it would become the next big craze. Each big wooden box included an instruction manual complete with photographs demonstrating the proper way to use the instrument. Though not a real commercial success due to a certain stock market crash in 1929,the theremin still fascinated people. In the 1930s, Lucie Bigelow Rosen and her husband, Walter, took up the instrument and worked to provide financial and artistic support that would further popularize the instrument.

The theremin has a sound that's thought to be eerie by many, and so it's commonly put to use in movie soundtracks like those for The Day the Earth Stood Still and Spellbound . It enjoyed a resurgence in popularity on the avant-garde scene and in psychedelic rock music.

So now you know and have no excuse to not win all that money on a popular TV game show.

All I ask is that, when you do, remember who gave you the answer to that double jeopardy question.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Plato: Composer and Closet Pythagorean

Plato, a heretic? No, surely not! But according to Jay Kennedy, a scholar from Manchester, England, this could very well be the case. If one examines Plato's works in their original scroll from, one will notice that every 12 lines there is a passage that discusses music. According to Kennedy, this is something that likely wouldn't have gone unnoticed by Plato's readers. Unlike today's 8-note scale, the Ancient Greeks used a 12-note scale, and so it's postulated that, by using the aforementioned pattern, Plato could have been trying to communicate some sort of musical message.

What sort of message? Well, Kennedy thinks that, just maybe, Plato could have secretly been a Pythagorean. No, this has nothing to do with trigonometry -I don't think. See, Pythagoras and his followers believed that mathematics and music were the keys to the universe (oh, but of course!) Because the beauty we hear when we hear harmonies can be attributed to certain mathematical ratios, witnessing such beauty was the experience of the perception of the direct mathematical order underlying the world. Pythagoras worshipped this mathematics and for some reason, were viewed as weirdo heretics. In fact, they were violently persecuted because, obviously, such believers were working to overthrow the gods of Olympus.

This being the reality of the situation, Plato couldn't come out and tell people he was in agreement with these guys without fear of being banished or worse, and researchers think that he may have embedded a hidden message in his works (in The Republic, at least). It's even hypothesized that it could be a melody or score embedded in the text.

Plato, a composer and secret code expert? I like him better already!