24 July 2007

In-spii-rate-tion: Doing Chapter 1

OK. So now you posted and I commented and we're getting some momentum here! Gonna keep things rolling with a bit of a look at chapter 1.

I got a little bogged down in this chapter, actually. That's why I haven't posted in a while. Feeling like I should continue the way I started & wanting to do a post for the 1st chapter kept me from just moving on into the 2nd chapter which was a much more interesting read. Guess maybe it would have been better to just keep going rather than let it stop me altogether.

Anyway. The chapter's called "What is Music: from pitch to timbre." And he sets out to define, in layman's terms, what all the different elements of music are. I guess that you do sorta need to have a common language before you can talk about something, but this is Really Dry. And I was awfully glad to be already familiar with the words from working with music. Some were pretty straight forward:

"Tempo refers to the overall speed or pace of the piece." (Page 15)

Some were a little more difficult to pin down.

"A discrete musical sound is usually called a tone. The word note is also used, but scientists reserve that word to refer to something that is notated on a page or score of music. The two terms, tone and note, refer to the same entity in the abstract, where the word tone refers to what you hear, and the word note refers to what you see written on a musical score." (Pages 14-15)

Oh my. It's sooo much easier in real life! I don't think that ever usually have to even define this note-tone stuff with even the youngest of my piano kids: they just pick it up as we go along! But I suppose that a scientist would have to think about these things. But Levitin gets very into this defining stuff. Sometimes I think he gets a little carried away - for instance, the discussion of solfeg (is that how you spell it? the checker doesn't seem to know that word), adds just about nothing to his section on what is a scale, and considerably clutters that paragraph. (Did I mention that this chapter was hard for me?)

But! As he's finishing up his discussion of the scale, he hits on another interesting gem: every known culture uses the octave. Fascinating! There's a tidbit that I wish they'd mentioned in the World Music (Music Appreciation? I can't remember) class that I took in college. We looked at a Javanese Gamelon - now there is a cool instrument/orchestra/gizmo. They had one at UIUC, and our section got to go and try it out. Most cool. But I had no idea that hidden somewhere in the strange sounds that room full of gamelon made was an octave. I enjoy listening to world music and I'm going to have to start listening closely to see if I can find these octaves. To add further interest he talks about how some animals seem to respond to the octave as well. Weird, but cool.

His discussion of why the notes are named the way they are is also entertaining:

"After centuries of being forced to eat in the servants' quarters and to use the back entrance of the castle, this may just be an invention by musicians to make nonmusicians feel inadequate." (Page 31)

Ahhh. The sweet sound of my boy waking up from his nap. More later.

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