Sunday, December 2, 2012

That Song Sounds Delicious!

One Ring Zero: Members Joshua Camp, Ian Riggs, Ben Holmes, Michael Hearst and Timothy Quigley

So if a musician composes music for ice cream trucks, isn't it kind of the logical progression that his next project would be to get together a bunch of famous chefs and put their recipes to music?

Of course it is.

Michael Hearst and his band, One Ring Zero, got together with a bunch of chefs including David Chang, Mario Batali, and Isa Chandra Moskowitz and what they created is the masterpiece that is known as The Recipe Project.

Having often collaborated with authors and worked with dancers Hearst has always been interested in "taking any set of words, even ones that aren't remotely poetic in the slightest, and trying to set them to music." Recipes, therefore, are prime fodder. It also helped that Hearst's brother-in-law was starting to become famous in his own right with Iron Chef and various Food Network shows, so the band decided to start their recipe compositions with him.
Just to make things even more complicated  -er- fun, The band  asked the chefs what style of music they liked and then tried to write the recipe-inspired songs in that style. This meant singing a recipe for Brains and Eggs in a hip-hop style (which I think it lends itself to, don't you?).

You can watch a video of One Ring Zero's musical rendition of a recipe for Peanut Butter Brunettes here.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Music Makes Wine Taste Better

Markus Bachmann, a French horn player from Austria, has created a fermentation system that infuses the music of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Vivaldi and rare orchestra and jazz recordings into wine.

So, I've heard of coconut-infused vodka, and cherry-infused rum, but music-infused wine has got to be the most awesome beverage on the face of the planet.

Managing director of Sonor Wines, Bachman literally puts a speaker into the wine tank that plays music during the fermentation process.The yeast doesn't wear earphones, so the key is in the frequencies and volume. And, according to him, "the yeast starts doing totally different things to wine." Makes sense I guess. Music has been proven to affect plants, and yeast is a bacteria... which is kind of, sort of close to a plant... right?

Anyway, Bachman explains that the speakers he uses have the magnet, but no membrane, so the water directly receives the vibrations. The sound waves help to mix up the yeast, ensuring that they get the sugar they need to respire. Bachman says, "it's the pulse of the rhythm that mixes it. The mixing keeps the yeast much more alive. There is 30 percent more living yeast in the fermentation than in wines without music." The yeast work less and respire more, and the result is a higher alcohol content and richer aroma in the finished product. What does this mean for the wine's taste? It's drier, because more of the sugar is used up. It also tastes much more mature for this reason, meaning that you could make a year old wine taste like a three year old wine.

Now, I have to ask, does the wine have a different personality depending on the music you choose. Say a Led-Zepplin Chardonnay versus a Tchaikovsky Merlot?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Harmonic Resonance: The Cure for Cancer

So, remember those cartoons in which they'd have an opera singer's voice breaking mirrors? And then remember how, in high school physics class, you discovered how that could actually happen? How you could hit a mirror or piece of glass at just the right frequency so as to match the vibrations of its own molecules and make it shatter? Okay, now that you're with me, what if I told you this could be the cure for cancer?

A man named Jonathan Brody went to college to study music. Then he went back to study oncology. Natural transition, right? He proceeds to collaborate with his old music teacher, Anthony Holland, on his medical study. Well, out of this comes his crazy idea that you can hit single-celled organisms with certain frequencies of vibrations to make them lyse (explode). If you can do it with Euglena, why not a cancer cell? And if each kind of cell requires a customized frequency, perhaps you could lyse all the cancer cells with a customized vibration, while leaving normal cells unharmed.

You can listen to this "So Crazy it Just Might Work" story at

Why didn't I think of that? Oboe players make the best closet cancer researchers.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Great Animal Orchestra: My summer reading report

Worth a read for any audiophile, ecologist, conservationist, Cage enthusiast or generally curious mind. My expert comments: "super-cool."

P.S. The author, Bernie Krause, became the lead guitarist for the Weavers folk band when Peter Seeger left. Just another reason to check it out.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Moby Dick on the Web

Not directly Cage related, but well worth a listen anyway.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cage at 100

Happy 100th birthday to John Cage! Thomas More college students enrolled in my philosophy of music  class performed 4'33" this morning at 8:30 am in our sculpture garden in-progress, "Madonna's Meadow." The performance was part of Global 4'33", a worldwide celebration of Cage and his legacy organized by the World Listening Project.

 A random draw from Silence in commemoration of Cage:

"We bake a cake  and it turns out that the sugar was not sugar but salt. I no sooner start to work than the telephone rings."

John Cage

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Vox Arcana Tour

Here is the tour poster for Chicago experimental band Vox Arcana. The tour begins on September 25th in Crestview Hills, Kentucky.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

John Cage Almond Cookie Recipe

John Cage is best known as a composer, of course, but he was also a painter, a filmmaker, an expert on mushrooms, and an inspired macrobiotic cook. Here is his recipe for almond cookies, courtesy of the Walker Art Center website. 

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a food processor, grind:
1 c. raw almonds
1 c. raw oats
Combine almonds and oats in a large bowl.  Stir in:
1 c. whole wheat flour or brown rice flour (if you want a gluten free option, you may need to add slightly more than the 1 c. brown rice flour, so that you are later able to form balls with the dough)
Add ground cinnamon to the dry mixture.
To the dry mixture, add:
1/2 c. almond oil (other nut oils work as well)
1/2 c. real maple syrup (no Aunt Jemima!)
Stir mixture until you are able to form one-inch balls.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet.  Flatten slightly, and press a small dollop of your favorite jam or preserves (jelly is too thin) into the center of each cookie.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning the pan once, halfway through the baking process.  Cookies are done when light golden brown.  They store well in the fridge.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

John Cage Turns 100

John Cage turns 100 on September 5th. We are celebrating at Thomas More with two student-led performances of 4'33''. More later.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Noise Pollution Evolution: City Bird and Country Bird

     A new study featured in Discovery Magazine aimed to examine the effects of urban cacophony on house sparrows— you know, those ubiquitous songbirds that seem to hang out in every urban area. The Conclusion: urban noises can interfere with the calls between songbirds and their chicks. Makes sense. But what does it mean? Parents who can't hear and thus respond to their offspring can't be the best parents, meaning that chicks reared in the city are less healthy than their counterparts chirping and fluttering around in bucolic bliss.
    The study was performed by the University of Sheffield's Julie Schroeder, who found that loud noises drown out communication between mother house sparrows and their chicks, including the calls chicks make to beg for food. Only a handful of other studies have examined the effect of loud noises on songbirds mating and nesting habits, though none have quite tackled the serious maternal questions raised long ago in Dr. Seuss's seminal work, Are You My Mother? Sheffield's study is also made unique by the fact that she focused on a well-known group of sparrows living on Lundy Island, in Devon, England. These sparrows regularly trade swap their eggs among nests, which results in some parents raising chicks they're not related to (and I find myself wondering if all sparrows do this, or if it's just a British thing). This kid-swapping helped researchers separate the effect of a sparrow's parentage from the effect of its environment, just in case the genetically weaker sparrows were somehow more prone to doing something stupid... like live next to a roiling electrical generator, which is exactly what some of them were doing.
     The generators on Lundy Island (built in 2001) run continuously from 6 to 9 pm and emit 70 decibels of noise. Schroeder compared the nest boxes located in the generators' noise zone to nests located in a quieter zone. She found that, while the noise has no real effect on the health of adult birds (female birds could even lay the same number of eggs), it did adversely affect their offspring. Though chicks in quiet areas had a 25 percent chance of living long enough to fledge (such are the harsh realities of birdy life), the chicks in noisy areas had only a 21 percent chance. Plus, those urban chicks weighed less than their country counterparts, most likely, Schroeder believes, because mother birds visited their chicks less often and provided them with less food.
     The fact that adult birds seemed in fine health led Schroeder to single out noise as the culprit in the weakness of urban chicks, since, say, if air pollution had been stunting chick growth, adults would have been unhealthy too. Researchers suspect these findings may help explain the house sparrow's sudden disappearance in Western Europe and North America. "If what we suggest takes place in big cities too," she says, "it is likely to play an important role in the sparrow population dynamic, and is probably one cause of the dramatic population crash that we are currently observing." Discovery Magazine reminds us that the exact cause of the chicks' undernourishment is still uncertain — there may very well be a barrier between mother and chick communication in urban areas or loud noises may scare off  insects the birds eat.

It's probably pretty important, though, for us to keep track of the plight of these songbirds, lest -God forbid!- the pigeon become the only bird we can look forward to seeing on our stroll to work in the big city

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Endangered Silence

This week at, host Krista Tippet talks with sound ecologist Gordon Hempton about vanishing soundscapes and "silence" as an endangered species.

"Our cities, our suburbs, our farm communities, even our most expansive and remote national parks are not free from human noise intrusions. Nor is there relief even at the North Pole; continent-hopping jets see to that. Moreover, fighting noise is not the same as preserving silence. Our typical anti-noise strategies — earplugs, noise cancellation headphones, even noise abatement laws — offer no real solution because they do nothing to help us reconnect and listen to the land. And the land is speaking." -Hempton, Sounds of Silence

The proliferation of human sound pollution to even the most remote regions of the world is discussed via the metaphor of disease and, recalling the warning of Robert Koch, developer of the scientific method that identifies the causes of disease, Hempton believes that "the unchecked loss of silence is a canary in a coal mine-a global one. If we cannot make a stand here, if we turn a deaf ear to the issue of vanishing natural quiet, how can we expect to fare better with more complex environmental crises?"

Though I'm not sure Cage would have employed so passionate and aggressive a metaphor, I'm sure he would share the sentiment. Human-made sounds are wonderful and technologies offer so much potential for something new and exciting, but humans must not lose sight of the natural sounds which already characterize the natural world -and which face extinction if neglected. Perhaps some "4:33 intervention" is needed. We need to recognize the soundscapes that nature offers us before seeking to improve upon them. 

You can download the podast of Tippet's interview with Hempton here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pachyderm Prodigy

When caretakers at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park noticed that Shanthi, an Asian elephant, tended to use her body in musically rhythmic ways, someone got the bright idea to give her an instrument. Guess what? Shanthi developed a panache for the harmonica and learned to play horns, too. You can see s video of one of her "concerts" here.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Awkward Silence?

     National Public Radio's show, All Things Considered, has been doing a series called "Why Music Matters."This week, they did this great feature on dancer and choreographer Amy O'Neal, who took on the challenge of dancing in complete silence. Ahem, I'm not going to say that it hasn't been done before because, ahem, yours truly undertook her own similar experiment, but it was intriguing to get another dancer's take on the experience.
       "I had to do a performance a couple years ago where I couldn't use any music," O'Neal says. "I had 15 minutes without sound. I felt like, OK, well, I need to have some kind of circumstances to deal with — so I asked people to bring me different outfits to wear. I would end up changing out there and sort of embodying whatever outfit it was that they had brought in."  O'Neal says that although she liked the idea at first, seeing video of her performance was not what she had expected.
      "When I saw the video I was like — oh my god, why are you doing that? You're just doing that because you're nervous about it being quiet," O'Neal says. Aha! Dancers are notoriously afraid of the "awkward silence," from my own experience, and O'Neal's insights seem to support this. "These questions came up: Is music a crutch for me? Why do I have to have it? Why can't I just be up there alone?" Yeah. Been there, sister. You dedicate so much time and energy to your craft, and you don't see why it shouldn't be able to stand alone, but then it does, and you feel so naked without the music.
      "There's an inherent tension and beauty in silence," she adds. "Things really aren't ever silent — there's always something, whether it be your breath or somebody coughing. But then, when music happens, everything sort of becomes alive."
     What I want to know is when this "music happens." And what is the state of things when they aren't "alive."

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Scruggs Style

Earl Scruggs, bluegrass legend, died this past Wednesday at age 88. Famous for his three-fingered banjo-style, he defined the bluegrass sound as we have come to know it today. Adding syncopation to the banjo and giving it almost a jazz-like approach, the style was even named "Scruggs style." How cool is that? I need a "style" named after me...

National Public Radio did a piece on his life and legacy here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Equestrian Orchestra

The summer Olympic games are taking place in London this year.
I knew that.

Dressage is an equestrian sport people will be competing in.
I knew that too.

Composer Tom Hunt is at work with members of a British team to compose music for the horses, paying careful attention to what each event calls for and, more importantly, what each specific horse will best respond to.

I didn't know that.

Mr. Hunt says that, when composing such pieces, you have to establish what sort of music the horse can respond to, just like you might do with people. What does this mean? Well, he explains that, if you have a big strong horse, you might want to use a big orchestral arrangement. But if you have a fun horse with more dainty movements and friendly characteristics, you might go for pop.
Some pretty interesting, beautiful and even epic original pieces have been composed for these horses, all for their various events. When asked if he thinks the horses express a preference for his work, Hunt says that he'd like to think that the horses are responding to the music because it's been designed with them in the mind. According to him, he never composes music that isn't going to suit them.
If you ask me, I think they might be a rather thankless audience. But then, I don't have a dancing horse.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Antithesis of Easy Listening

If I say "Opera," what do you think of? Stuffy concert halls stuffed with huffy hushed audience?Sweating sopranos belting out glass-cracking Italian crescendos? The aged elite able to shell out the cash for such a performance? Come on. The answers yes, isn't it?

Now, if I say "Rap," I'm sure quite different images enter the mind. In-your-face ibonic rhymes, delivered by shirtless, tattooed black men? Controversial themes and lyrics, blasting out of car windows reverberating with bass? even if you thought of something else, I assume it's something different than those things mentioned above.

These are commonly held stereotypes, admit it. But surveys show that the majority of listeners worldwide tend to shy away from both musical styles. Rap and opera tend to be the musical genres people feel most strongly about (positively or negatively), despite their distinct differences. Makes one wonder why that could be...

There's, of course, the complex issue of taste to be considered. Social and cultural conditioning, values associated with both musical types and the aforementioned stereotypes. All load each genre with heavy associated baggage. Some people reject both groups, while others relish degrees of perceived inclusion, "taking sides" if you will. It is not outlandish to say that perceptions help determine musical choices and vice versa.

Digging deeper, one can argue that there are many connections, not least of which is the obsessiveness of each genre's most dedicated aficionados.

Consider the opera fanatics. I don't know about you, but those that I've met incessantly critique all aspects of singers, conductors, directors, composers, set designers and opera companies. The hard-core opera geeks know the intricacies of how the human voice works, and how it "should" work in any given operatic role performed by any given singer. Certain voices fit certain roles perfectly, but singers often try on roles a size or two too big. Not pretty, and the opera fan will be sure to loudly point that out.

In the "higher realms of rap," you have to navigate the interior social strata, the subtleties of sampling and layers of meaning behind the braggadocio and how it relates to selling records. Rap, like opera, also has a complicated "cast list." Keeping up with who appears on whose singles, mixtapes and remixes can be as confounding as keeping track of who sang what on the famous Knappertsbusch Ring cycles. And with rap, like opera, there are a huge amount of regional variety, from Compton to Atlanta to the Bronx, London and Istanbul. It's like high school all over again. Who doing what and with who and who's cool now and who's not anymore.

There are some, however, that say society has little to do with preferences.
Rather, they're all about communication. The languages of rap and opera just don't speak to some people. Both the actual language that each genre uses in performance and the convoluted vernaculars each has engendered There are actually dictionaries of both hip hop and opera jargon). Opera and rap rely heavily on words, many of which are not immediately discernible (especially if you actually don't happen to speak the language). Rap can have complex poetry (and profanity) zipping past at indecipherable speeds (do they want you to hear it? And what about those "turbo-rappers?"). Opera often has foreign tongues and high flying phrasing, requiring CD listeners to run to their printed librettos and opera houses to install supertitles. Yes, that's right: supertitles.

The bottom line, in my opinion, is that Opera and rap take work to appreciate — perhaps more work than these average listeners are willing to expend.In a world where more and more music is available to anyone's ears, there have developed a great many lazy listeners (harsh, I know, but true, I think). Is it too easy to download too much, to acquire everything but actually hear nothing? Um, yeah, it is. Many people love a hit song, but few take the time to fully appreciate a complete hip-hop album, let alone an entire opera. It also takes work to enjoy music that's as in-your-face as opera and rap admittedly are.

With all the melodrama, social consciousness, violence and intense vocal styles, they certainly are not musical furniture. Like it or hate it, it's definitely in the room.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Deep Listening- 2012 John Cage Award Goes to Pauline Oliveros

From the Deep Listening Institute Website:


“Through Pauline Oliveros and Deep Listening, I finally know what harmony is...It’s about the pleasure of making music.” - - John Cage, 1989

Kingston, NY, February 15, 2012 – Composer Pauline Oliveros has been named the winner of the 2012 John Cage Award, given biennially by the Foundation for Contemporary Arts (FCA). This prestigious $50,000 award was established in 1992 in honor of the late composer, who was one of FCA’s founders. Selected by FCA’s Directors, the John Cage Award is made in recognition of outstanding achievement in the arts for work that reflects the spirit of John Cage. The selection is made from invited nominations. Oliveros will receive the award in a ceremony slated for March 19 at the Merce Cunningham Dance Studio in New York City.
“I am honored and delighted to receive the John Cage Award,” says Pauline Oliveros. “May the freedom that Cage inspired with his work continue to spread, sustain and open minds throughout the world.”
Oliveros is a senior figure in contemporary American music and founder of the Deep Listening Institute of Kingston, NY. Since the 1960s, Oliveros has worked with improvisation, meditation, electronic music, myth and ritual. In addition to the John Cage Award, Oliveros was honored with the William Schuman Award in 2010. She was honored in 1985 with a retrospective at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and represented the United States at the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan.
Oliveros has built a loyal following through her concerts, recordings and publications, and musical compositions that she has written for soloists and ensembles in music, dance, theater and inter-arts companies. She has also provided leadership within the music community from her early years as the first director of the Center for Contemporary Music (formerly the Tape Music Center at Mills), director of the Center for Music Experiment during her 14-year tenure as professor of music at the University of California at San Diego, and acting in an advisory capacity for organizations such as The National Endowment for the Arts, The New York State Council for the Arts and many private foundations.
Through her work at universities and colleges, including Oberlin College Conservatory of Music and Bard College, she has influenced generations of young composers. Additionally, Oliveros is a Distinguished Research Professor of Music at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Darius Milhaud Composer-in-Residence at Mills College in Oakland, CA.
Oliveros is vocal about representing the needs of individual artists, about the need for
diversity and experimentation in the arts, and promoting cooperation and good will among people. Most recently, she composed music for use by the Occupy movement.
"FCA is pleased to honor Ms. Oliveros's many accomplishments in music/sound with the 2012 John Cage Award,” says Stacy Stark, executive director of FCA. “She joins a distinguished and small group of artists who have been recognized for their ground- breaking work in the performing arts and who reflect the spirit of John Cage."
Founded and guided by artists, FCA’s mission is to encourage, sponsor and promote innovative work in the arts created and presented by individuals, groups and organizations. Artists working in dance, music/sound, performance art/theater, poetry and the visual arts are awarded nonrestrictive grants to use at their own discretion; arts organizations receive project or general operating support by application and a fund is maintained to help artists with work-related emergencies.
Since FCA’s inception in 1963, nearly 900 artists have donated work to raise funds for these grants. The current directors of the Foundation are: Brooke Alexander, Frances Fergusson, Agnes Gund, Jasper Johns, Julian Lethbridge, Glenn Ligon, Kara Walker and T.J. Wilcox.
Media Contacts:
Pauline Oliveros Publicist Linda Shockley:; 917-521-0711
Foundation for Contemporary Arts Development Director Catherine Massey:; 212-807-7077
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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

John Cage Centennial Celebration (with friends)

John Cage is coming to Cincinnati!
From Jan 20th-April 20th, the Carl Solway Gallery will exhibit works by John Cage, including prints, drawings multiples and scores. The gallery's 50th anniversary celebration will feature works by numerous artists affiliated with Cage (Yoko Ono, Marcel Duchamp, Allen Ginsberg and others) and includes a series of free Thursday evening concerts. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, "Solway has said no one was more influential in helping to shape his personal life and professional career than Cage."

And while you're out and about, The Cincinnati Art Museum will be featuring an exhibition by Nick Cave, entitled "Meet Me at the Center of the Earth." Apparently, this is supposed to be the largest-scale presentation of the work of Chicago-based Cave to date. Combining aspects of sculpture, fashion design, dance and video art, Cave has created these super-neat-o "soundsuits." They're full-body, form fitting suits layered and textured with various metals, plastics, found objects and even dyed human hair. The best part? They're designed to rattle, swish, and resonate in rhythm with the movements of the wearer. The exhibition runs from Jan 2st1-April 29th.

I gotta get me one of those suits...