CMSC 2011 Abstracts:
SOUND AT PLAY: MUSIC, HUMOR, AND GAMES
Columbia Music Scholarship Conference 2011
Galen Brown, Composer/Senior Editor,
Cultural Practice in Humor"
click a link in an e-mail or on a website, hit play on a YouTube video, or
download an mp3, and then it happens: Instead of the content you expected,
you get Rick Astley singing his 1987 hit “Never Gonna Give You Up,” and you’ve been Rickrolled.
Again. By the fall of 2008, the phenomenon was so widely known that Rick Astley himself was recruited to Rickroll
viewers of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But why is Rickrolling funny?
his book Repeating Ourselves, Robert Fink relates pulse-based minimalist
music to a broader “cultural practice” of minimalism in which an extreme
repetition born of modernity is a pervasive cultural force. As illustrated
by Rick Astley, the cultural practice of
minimalism extends to humor, and I intend to demonstrate that much
repetitive or static humor is “minimalist” in a fairly strict sense, i.e.
that certain strains of this humor engage conceptually with repetition and
stasis as a sort of meta-humor, much in the way that early minimalist music
deals conceptually with the repetition of sounds and the limitation of
materials. In fact, I will argue that the same tools we use to study
minimalist are particularly well-suited to the analysis of minimalist
single instance of a Rickroll is funny primarily
in relation to the broader cultural phenomenon--precisely because it has
already happened so many times. Monty Python, Family Guy, Andy Kaufman, and
others can all be seen as practitioners of minimalist comedy.
H. Brown is a New York based composer, musicologist, and Senior Editor at
Sequenza21. His recent musicological
work has focused on the history of minimalist music, and his paper
"Process as Means and End in Minimalist and Postminimalist
Music" will appear in the Spring 2011 edition of Perspectives of New
Music. He is currently researching the social construction of the idea of
Galen's most recent composition was a trombone quartet called
"Grind," commissioned by The Guidonian
Hand. His piece "Waiting in the Tall Grass" was recently recorded
by Relâche for inclusion on their next release.
Please visit www.galenbrown.com for more information and music.
Dario Sarlo, Goldsmiths College, University of London
perfection: Jascha Heifetz and the art of bad
widely as the “perfect violinist,” Jascha Heifetz
(1901-1987) set a new standard for violin playing in the twentieth century.
After his London debut in 1920, Heifetz received a letter from George
My dear Heifetz, Your recital has filled
me and my wife with anxiety. If you provoke a jealous God by playing with
such superhuman perfection, you will die young. I earnestly advise you to
play something badly every night before going to bed instead of saying your
prayers. No mere mortal should presume to play as faultlessly as that.
comments are more than just a witty response; they provide a starting point
for examining the relationship between Heifetz’s undeniable technical
mastery and his lifelong fascination with the comical imitation of bad
violin playing. Although not widely known, Heifetz made more than a dozen
“bad” recordings under the pseudonym Joseph Hague, accompanied by the
pianist “Floyd E. Sharp,” and he also performed a concerto in this same
manner for a group of his students as part of a filmed masterclass
provide context to the discussion, this paper will examine the formation of
the “perfection” legend and its development throughout Heifetz’s career,
and will question how and why such imitation performances make us laugh. By
comparing two performances of the same piece—by Heifetz and “Hague”—this
paper will ask what can be learned about violin playing, about musical
humor, and about Heifetz himself.
Sarlo is a British violinist and musicologist,
and recently completed his PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London. For his
doctorate, Dario examined Jascha Heifetz’s
uniqueness as a performer and spent thirteen months as a resident
international research fellow at the Library of Congress Kluge Centre where
he had access to Heifetz’s huge personal archive of manuscripts, programmes, scrapbooks, correspondence and other
documents. To support his doctoral research, Dario interviewed a number of
Heifetz’s friends, students and colleagues, across the USA.
a result of his research, Dario was invited to consult on an upcoming
Heifetz documentary film by Peter Rosen Productions in New York, and was
one of the first to examine newly-discovered private video Heifetz filmed
himself between 1918 and 1950. Dario’s article on Heifetz for the November
2010 issue of The Strad was positively received,
and he is currently co-producing a Heifetz biography for Indiana University
Arnie Daniel Schoenberg, San Diego City College
leadership: adolescent music in Bahia, Brazil"
participant-observation in small percussion groups in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, I examine how adolescents develop leadership
skills through music. I compare leadership in band rehearsals to
administrative meetings with a non-governmental organization that uses
music to improve the lives of young African descendants. I focused my
observations on communication and problem solving in both rehearsals and
meetings. My findings suggest that music contributes to the leadership
development of adolescents through the music per se and through its social
context. The social context for leadership development includes a racial-musical-educational
project and other recreational activities. Music per se develops leadership
by forcing adolescents to renegotiate social roles, by promoting the
development of increased attentiveness, and by inspiring motivation through
shared escapism. An important feature of leadership development was ludic behavior within music, fooling-around during
rehearsals. It was always an invitation for others to join in the behavior
or at least witness it, which implied abandoning or lessening the
importance of the task at hand, usually withdrawing from reviewing the
repertoire and learning new songs. But the judicious use of disruptive
behavior had the positive function of abandoning or lessening the
importance of the problem at hand, which often, because of frustration, had
worked its way into a vicious cycle. I conclude that music contributes to
leadership development by providing a communal experience in which
adolescents can efficiently rehearse negotiations of power in a ludic setting that mitigates personal conflicts.
Arnie Daniel Schoenberg based this presentation on
research done for his 2005 MA thesis in anthropology from San Diego State
University. He currently teaches at San Diego Community College. Other
research includes instruments made of PVC pipe, and drumming at political
University of Toronto
and the Comic Style in Il marito giocatore (1719)"
recent psychological studies on the interaction of humor and play emphasize
their salutary effect (Mannell and McMahan 1982; Sanville 1999; Richman 2003). These studies are part of a larger body
of literature which focuses on the relationship between humor and mental
health (Lefcourt 2001, et al). Some researchers in the humanities,
however, have continued to promote the superiority of theory of humor which
posits that laughter arises from competition (Gruner
1997). This paper examines the role
of competition and chance in the creation of musical humor. I take as my case study the most
performed intermezzo of the eighteenth century, Giuseppe Maria Orlandini’s Il marito giocatore (1719).
intermezzo tells the story of an inveterate gambler who takes revenge upon
his disapproving wife when she demands a divorce. Competition plays a vital role in all
levels of the intermezzo. The
husband competes at cards and the couple competes with each other. Many of their interactions are in the
form of an “elastic gag,” a type of humorous dialogue which originates with
improvised theatre (Andrews 1993).
This paper examines the importance of this style of comedy to the
creation of the intermezzo’s musical language. It first explores contemporary attitudes
towards play, competition, and gambling.
I then suggest that the “elastic gag” technique which governs much
of the libretto influences the periodic construction of the musical
phrase. Musical humor in the
intermezzo is therefore dependent upon principles of play and competition.
Johnston is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto. His dissertation examines the practice of
musical comedy in the intermezzo before 1733. His research has been supported by the
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Ontario
Graduate Scholarship. A 2009 Dünnhaupt Travel Grant generously funded his archival
research in Italy. Keith is
currently the student representative for the Society for Eighteenth-Century
Medina-Gray, Yale University
and Transitional Seams: Toward a Theory of Musical Modularity in
21st-Century Video Games"
lends an important vitality to the virtual environments of video
games. It can—when used
successfully—both contribute to the player’s sense of immersion in the game
world, and adapt to (and functionally support) a specific gameplay experience.
This need for adaptability, coupled with the unpredictability of the
player’s actions, makes modular musical design—an abstract array of
pre-composed segments of music that are triggered at specific circumstances
in the game—an excellent fit for game construction. These modules do not exist in a vacuum,
however, and as the player interacts with the game world, these small
pieces of music transition from one to another or layer on top of each
other, yielding interactions, or “seams,” between the modules
themselves. The relative smoothness
or disjunction across these modular seams has the potential to either
deflect the player’s attention from the music or to attract it, yielding functional
and immersive effects that—because of the uncertainty of timing—the
composer can only broadly control.
present paper begins to explore the roles of modular smoothness and
disjunction by focusing on one type of music common in many video games:
combat music. Function is especially
important in combat music, since the transitions into and out of this music
must alert the player to critical changes in the game state. This paper examines music from two games
of the past ten years, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
(Nintendo, 2002) and Assassin’s Creed II (Ubisoft,
2009), with close attention to those musical qualities—particularly
tonality, macroharmony, and rhythm and meter—that
most strongly contribute to smoothness and disjunction (and subsequently
immersion and function) across the modular seams of these games.
Medina-Gray is currently a graduate student at Yale University, where she
is pursuing her doctorate in music theory.
She holds a B.A. in music and chemistry from Swarthmore College, and
an M.A. in music theory from Yale.
In addition to modular music in video games, which will form the
central research topic for her dissertation, her other interests include
20th-century tonal music, mathematical musical models, choral music, and
theories of voice leading in late 19th-century chromaticism.
David Gutkin, Columbia University
“Games and Art:
the Autonomous, the Everyday, and the Virtual”
Numerous twentieth-century artistic practices
(earlier ones as well) seem to
intentionally obfuscate the difference between game and art: e.g., Iannis Xenakis’ game
compositions Duel and Stratégie, related game
pieces by composer John Zorn, the Fluxus
movement’s “Fluxgames,” Oulipian
literary games, John Cage’s musicalized game of
chess with Marcel Duchamp, Gabriel Orozco’s sculpture that is effectively a
circular billiard table. A host of ontological and classificatory problems
arise: Can art be (simultaneously?) a game?; Can games (including sports?)
be art? Skeptical that such definitional questions can be plausibly
answered (for reasons that I will address), and in fact convinced that they
follow a faulty premise, in this paper I engage such issues in order to
bring into focus a somewhat different theme: put simply, I ask what various
ludic art practices might tell us about the
dialectical relations between the concepts of “autonomy” and “the
everyday.” Specifically, I propose that the concept “game” may shed a new
light on the supposed rupture between formalist, hermetically sealed
“autonomous art” (e.g., post-WWII serial music as a late manifestation of
this) and “neo-avant-garde” attempts to eradicate barriers between art and
everyday life (e.g., Cageian indeterminate
practices). Finally I suggest that the prominence of the “virtual” in both
postmodern games and art reflects a strange, and in some ways politically
reactionary hybrid between ideologies of autonomy and the aesthetics of the
Currently a graduate student in historical
musicology at Columbia University, David has written on philosophy of
graphic notation in the mid-twentieth century, the television operas of
Robert Ashley, and articulations of nationalism and representations of the
United States in American experimental music. Following on the latter
interest, his dissertation (almost in progress) is a study of American
mythologies portrayed in experimental musical theater works during the age
of Reaganism. He has published in If A Then B:
Notes on Translation, Guitar Review, and Current Musicology (book review
Ji-Young Kim, Cornell University
“Mit gutem Humor”: Topics as
Conveyors of Wit and Humor in Schumann’s Instrumental Music
of humor in the music of Robert Schumann have often fallen back on the
literary-aesthetic categories of romantic wit and irony, particularly as
evidenced in the writings of Jean Paul, Friedrich Schlegel, and E. T. A.
Hoffmann. That literary discourse has dominated such discussions is
understandable given the composer’s background and documented interests.
But the literary-aesthetic has been linked to the musico-analytical
mostly at the level of musical form, yielding rather cerebral and unfunny
paper attempts an alternative approach by deploying topical analysis to
foreground the playful aspects of Schumann’s music. In so doing, it shifts
the emphasis away from musical form and towards surface phenomena. While
Leonard Ratner developed the notion of topic to
describe music in the classic style, this paper follows upon Kofi Agawu’s observation in Music as Discourse that 18th
century topics persisted in 19th century music, albeit in different
contexts and with different expressive purposes.
such purpose is to convey wit and humor. Through an overview of excerpts
from Schumann’s solo piano and chamber music, broader categories of Volkston (or “popular style”) and more characteristic
18th century markers will emerge as important conveyors of these affects,
usually via specific dance topics. Agawu
acknowledges that topical analysis in and of itself may be insufficient; it
does not furnish an explanatory apparatus of musical meaning. And yet,
topics may function as important and arguably more direct communicators of
humor than Schumann’s idiosyncratic adoption of literary strategies.
Ji Young Kim is a first-year graduate student in
musicology at Cornell University. She previously studied at Columbia
University and piano performance at Manhattan School of Music. Her research
interests include late 18th- to early 19th-century aesthetics and the music
of Robert Schumann.
University of Chicago
Etudes: Pleasure and learning in music games and pedagogical pieces"
pleasures of music-themed video games such as the Rock Band series are
usually compared to those of instrumental musicianship. To critics, they
turn musical performance into a mechanical, uncreative exercise; to
defenders, they extend its pleasures to non-musicians and musicians alike.
But by focusing on the role of creative expression in these games, this
framing obscures the pleasures they offer of learning and mastery. Their
songs are not just audio tracks but also patterns of gesture, sequenced and
arranged into a playful pedagogy. This paper suggests that the game-like
aspects of Rock Band can lend insight into études
and pedadogical music, and that the pleasures of
instrumental musicianship are more game-like than commonly thought.
patterns in Rock Band's songs are analogous to patterns in game design, as
described by game designers in interviews and essays. The most salient of
these patterns are elaborated repetition, learn-practice-test progressions,
and “summits”—moments of respite after difficult stretches. These “ludomusical” formulas allow Rock Band's music to serve
as both soundtrack and game level.
same patterns appear in keyboard études by Chopin
and Ligeti. This suggests that these pieces might
also considered instances of game design, written as much to be learned as
to be performed. Thus, the language of game design helps elucidate the
pleasure of learning music— whether through video games, sight-reading, or
plain old repeated practice.
Shultz is a graduate student in music theory at the University of Chicago.
His dissertation investigates models of motion in video game music and
their relation to physical and virtual gestures of gameplay,
with examples drawn from everybody's favorite games. His other academic
interests include mathematics and computation in music theory, embodiment
in music, and 20th- and 21st-century music more broadly.
Patricia Alessandrini and Rob King
"A sea of
others: play and its consequences in a physically-modeled video and sound
This paper addresses play in a series of
collaborative works consisting of ambient game situations in which audience
members determine sonic events according to the actions of their avatars in
a physically-modeled underwater world. The music in these situations acts
as a motivation for acting and playing in the virtual world. The first work
(2010) is a network performance involving a trio of musicians in three
separate performance spaces. In the projected video, primitive sea
creatures seeking life-sustaining micro-organisms - each controlled via an iPad/iPod/iPhone application
– interact with one another while at the same time subject to the presence
of other oceanic avatars; these latter are set into motion by the audio
from the live musicians, and their movements create windows through which
sound (processed recordings of Mozart) may be released into physical models
of plates, which resonate in response. The creatures’ actions also
influence other aspects of the electronics - such as causing the virtual
plates to bend and fluctuate – and generate the score for the musicians. As
the audience in each site sees and hears the interactions of the musicians
and the underwater avatars, the shared display reveals what happens as the
actions of individuals co-exist in a sea of others. The second work (2011)
will use similar techniques for a trio including voice. In this case,
‘successful’ interactions by the creatures will cause bits of text to be
concatenated, and ‘failure’ will lead to the dissipation of words into
drops of water (synthesized through physical modeling).
Alessandrini’s works actively engage with the
concert music repertoire, and issues of representation, interpretation,
perception and memory. She has become increasingly involved in multimedia,
theatrical and collaborative work. Her compositions have been presented in
festivals including Agora, Archipel, Festival de
la imagen, Festival en tiempo
real, Synthèse, Musica
Strasbourg, Musiques Démesurées,
and Pacific New Music Festival, by ensembles such as Accroche
Note, Arditti Quartet, Ensemble Aleph, Ensemble Alternance, Ensemble InterContemporain,
Ensemble Itinéraire, Ensemble Vortex, Ives
Quartet, New Millennium, Speculum Musicae, and Talujon Quartet. She has composed music for the Ballet
de l’Opéra National du Rhin,
and is currently collaborating with visual artists Chiara
Vecchiarelli and Rukiye
Sahin, filmmaker Shirin
Abu Shaqra and performer Yann
Marussich. She has realised
works in collaboration with IRCAM, GRM, La Muse en Circuit, and other centres of computer music research and production. She
was the invited Composer-in-residence of the Soundscape
Festival for 2010.