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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Most Western music is dependent on a structure with two, three, or four beats in a measure

- Ashley Fetters writes for and produces The Atlantic's Entertainment channel.

The Anthropological Reason It Feels Weird to Dance to Brubeck's 'Take Five'

Share1DEC 6 2012, 2:12 PM ET 1
Reading the scholarly literature on Dave Brubeck's funky time signatures
banner brubeck.jpg
Dave Brubeck

TO THE NAKED EYE, IT MAY APPEAR THAT: Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, who died Wednesday, will be remembered for recording one of the most beloved jazz melodies of its era: 1959's distinctive, serpentine "Take Five," which was written by Brubeck's collaborator Paul Desmond (well, maybe it was a joint effort) and performed by their band, The Dave Brubeck Quartet.
BUT ACCORDING TO SOME EXPERTS WHO THOUGHT REALLY HARD ABOUT THIS: There's another reason why the popularity of "Take Five" is remarkable: It's performed in a musical structure that people in the Western world often show cognitive resistance to.
Most Western music is dependent on a structure with two, three, or four beats in a measure—or some multiple of those—with even spaces between the emphasized beats. As Justin London, a music professor at Carleton College, puts it in "How to Talk About Musical Metre," "Western music theory, from the 19th century through Lerdahl and Jackendoff (1983) has presumed meter to be inherently isochronous." In other words, when you tap your foot to a common piece of Western music, be it one by Katy Perry or Tchaikovsky, your taps will have regular time intervals between them.

"Take Five," though, is written and performed in a 5/4 time signature, as my jazz-fan colleague David Graham mentioned yesterday—meaning there are five beats per measure. (Hence the title.) When there are five, seven, eleven, or almost any number of beats in a measure that doesn't divide evenly into twos or threes, the beats can become non-isochronous—meaning the emphasized beats, the ones you would tap your foot along with, aren't evenly spaced. For example: Try clapping along with the original Mission: Impossible theme, which is also in a 5/4 time signature.
Time signatures like these are often known as "irregular," "complex," or "asymmetrical" time signatures.
"Irregular" time signatures are anything but unusual in other parts of the world—some musical cultures from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Balkan Peninsula commonly use metric structures that don't follow the same set of rules as Western music, according to an article called "Synchronization and Continuation Tapping to Complex Meters" for a 2006 edition of Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal.
But people raised in North America often have a particular trouble with irregular time signatures. The authors of the Music Perception article conducted a study in which participants were asked to tap along with recordings of drum patterns played over Balkan folk melodies in irregular meters, then continue tapping out the rhythm once the drum pattern was turned off, then in the absence of both the drum pattern and the melody. North Americans, they found, had difficulty producing complex metrical patterns—even those with, as the article specifies (kind of amazingly), "high amounts of tapping experience and music training." Their tapping frequently stretched out to resemble something more like an even beat.
Studies have also shown that the Western preference for even, symmetrical rhythms is a learned behavior. The Music Perception article cites an earlier study that found that
young infants have little difficulty perceiving timing disruptions of musical patterns in both simple and complex meters, while North-American 1-year-olds and adults only perform accurately in the context of simple meters (Hannon & Trehub, 2005a, 2005b). These data suggest that North American adults' difficulty with nonisochronous meters arises from learned representations of Western meters and not from the intrinsic difficulty of complex meters.
So perhaps if you listen to enough music by the famously outside-the-box Dave Brubeck Quartet—or other stuff with a funky time signature, like Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" and Pink Floyd's "Money," which both have sections in 7/4—it's still possible to train your brain differently. Better yet, sing it to your baby at bedtime and he or she might grow up to be as musically innovative as Paul Desmond.
AND... ANYTHING ELSE? Yup. As Leonard Meyer explains in Emotion and Meaning in Music, disturbances in the expected meter can create doubt and tension. When they're employed temporarily in music that's otherwise structured around a four-beat measure, listeners become "uncertain of the outcome" and eagerly await the return to a normal meter and harmonic progression.
Given that "Take Five" is an entire composition structured in an irregular time signature that most of us aren't used to, maybe there's something to Graham's description of Brubeck's opening piano riff as "ominous."
AND THUS, WE CAN CONCLUDE THAT: "Take Five" didn't just transcend the rules of jazz—it also transcended what was once a rigid rule of Western music. A real achievement, even if it is a little hard to dance to.

'Mommy Porn? How dare men put down women’s sexual fantasies’

'Mommy Porn? How dare men put down women’s sexual fantasies’

EL James has just won a top award for her global bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey, which has earned her a vast fortune and accolades – but her next book could shock her millions of fans

Black leather and chains: EL James in the Soho Hotel: 'It made me feel slightly less of a pervert when other people enjoyed the sexual fantasy'
Black leather and chains: EL James in the Soho Hotel: 'It made me feel slightly less of a pervert when other people enjoyed the sexual fantasy'  Photo: Rii Schroer
It was by chance that EL James, the creator of the publishing phenomenon of the year, Fifty Shades of Grey, began writing about sadomasochistic sex. While browsing in a bookshop in Hampstead some years ago, she picked up Macho Sluts, a collection of eye-wateringly explicit stories of dominatrixes and dungeons by American author Pat Califa.
“It was my first taste of something really hardcore, and I thought: this is interesting. After that, I read some more BDSM [bondage and discipline, dominance and submission and sadomasochism] and wondered: what would happen if someone from that world met somebody who didn’t know anything about it?”
That idea was the kernel of the Fifty Shades trilogy, a sequence that has coined the salacious moniker “mommy porn”.
Told from the perspective of student and virgin Anastasia Steele, the books follow the story of her seduction by an emotionally damaged, ridiculously handsome billionaire called Christian Grey. Grey is a skilled proponent of BDSM, and their romance unfurls against a backdrop of whips and handcuffs.
Initially spread by word of mouth, and helped by the discretion afforded by e-books, Fifty Shades was the fastest paperback to sell one million copies, the bestselling book in the UK and had the biggest weekly global sale of a book (665,000 copies), with James becoming Amazon’s biggest-selling author.
This week she won the Popular Fiction Book of the Year category at the National Book Awards. By Christmas, an estimated 100 million people will have read it.
“It started to kick off last January; since then it has been mad, really crazy shakes,” James says, jazz hands in the air to illustrate the intensity of the last 12 months.
She shelters behind thick, dark hair and a long fringe but it fails to disguise a deep tiredness. “I’m slightly shattered,” she admits, clutching a large cappuccino. “I’m sorry if I’m not very awake. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind.”
In short James, real name Erika Mitchell, looks exactly what she is: a 49-year-old mother of two who has found herself catapulted to global superstardom. At one point this summer, the former TV producer was earning around £800,000 a week, while the film rights to the book sold for $5 million. It has not, however, been an easy ride. Her occasionally clunky prose has proved an easy target and the literary community has sniffed its disapproval.
“Journalists and critics think: 'why are people reading this and not my stuff?’ I didn’t set out to be Tolstoy. I wrote it for myself, for fun. The majority of people who read it love it – and quite a lot of people have read it,” she smiles. “It made me feel slightly less of a pervert when other people enjoyed the fantasy as well...”
More hurtful have been the allegations that her books encourage domestic violence, despite the emphasis she places on consensuality. “Nothing freaks me out more than people who say this is about domestic abuse,” she says. “Bringing up my book in this context trivialises the issues, doing women who actually go through it a huge disservice. It also demonises loads of women who enjoy this lifestyle, and ignores the many, many women who tell me they’ve found the books sexually empowering.”
James has been a reclusive figure on the media scene so far. Many of the “interviews” she has supposedly given have been no more than a summation of what she posts on her websites. She refuses to speak to most British newspapers, fed up that she is always quoted out of context. (I underwent a 90-minute grilling by her agent before being granted access.)
By contrast, she delights in interacting with fans. Her Twitter feed shares her love of eating Nutella with a spoon, her fondness for walking her Westie dog, Max, near her home in Ealing, west London, and such domestic trivia as broken plumbing and an inability to eat a fish taco tidily. It touches on her smoking – menthol slims, or “ghetto fags” – and her joy at settling down at the end of a day with a bottle of Oyster Bay sauvignon blanc and her husband of 25 years, Niall.
Niall, 53, is also a writer, primarily of screen drama, including Hornblower. Aside from the odd exuberant row, the two enjoy working at home together – in separate rooms. “Niall really understands the craft of writing. I don’t like to publish anything unless he’s read it. He’s my absolute touchstone.”
For his part, Niall is phlegmatic about having a wife famed the world over for her libidinous fiction – as well as one who earns hundreds of times more than he does. He is on record as saying that he is not Christian Grey, that he is the world’s least romantic person, and that they don’t have a “red room of pain” (what Grey calls his dungeon).
Has the stark contrast between her real-life husband and the dream man in her books caused any marital problems?
“It’s probably why I wrote Christian,” she says. “I could give it to Niall and say, 'hey, this is a manual...’ No, Christian is fantasy. Niall is amazing, a lovely man who makes me laugh. Everything about Fifty Shades is fantasy: fantasy man, fantasy sex.”
James began writing as a child in Buckinghamshire and had started various novels over the years. But it was the Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer that inspired her to write Fifty Shades as a steamy piece of fan fiction, a literary tribute to the vampire/virgin genre.
In late 2010, she started publishing the tale of Ana and Christian free on fanfiction.net, using the pseudonym Snowqueens Icedragon. It was so well received by fellow fans that in May 2011 she decided to publish Fifty Shades of Grey as an e-book. As Fifty Shades’s success snowballed, selling more than 250,000 copies despite no publicity, she was approached by six big publishing houses, went with Vintage Books (part of Random House), and has never looked back.
In all that has followed, she has taken great care to keep her two teenage sons out of the picture.
“The boys haven’t read the books. Why would they be interested in their mum’s fantasies? They just want their mum.”
If only it were that simple. James went to see her eldest in his school play recently. It was a Greek tragedy, and in one tableau all the females on stage were reading Fifty Shades. “I thought poor boy, bless his cotton socks.”
But they get their own back by teasing her constantly. “They call me EL Haims,” she says, adopting a thick Spanish accent. She also mentions, with some pride, that her eclectic musical taste – she writes to a playlist that includes everything from the Black Eyed Peas’s Sexy to Lakmé’s Flower Duet – is shared by her sons.
James’s Chilean mother is a huge fan. Unperturbed by their racy nature, she has repeatedly read the trilogy in both English and Spanish. Her father died 10 years ago and she likes to think he would also have been proud of her, but she has “no idea” how he would have reacted.
As for friends, she laughs about the number of Facebook messages calling her a “dark, dark horse”. Certainly, there is little about James’s appearance and manner that hints at the vivid sexual imagination within. Nor is there much to indicate that she is a millionaire many times over, and, according to Time magazine one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Her domestic life is pretty normal, too. She spent the morning looking for socks and dealing with a broken dishwasher. Niall is in charge of the cooking but the laundry remains her domain. They have promised themselves a smarter kitchen, but other than that James has yet to spend much of her new fortune. She did buy some nice bras – but nothing with tassels. And now her millions look set to grow still further, with the launch of a new Fifty Shades bedroom accessory line.
Finally, in all the hullabaloo of 2012, is there a question that she has yet to be asked? She lights up.
“The difference between the way male and female fantasy is explored – it’s interesting. Look at male fantasies: Lord of the Rings, Batman, The Avengers. It’s lauded. Anything written by a woman, like Twilight, my huge inspiration, is derided. All female fantasy is derided. It’s an insight into how misogynist the world is.
“Take the phrase 'mommy porn’. It’s one of the most misogynist things I’ve ever heard in my life. It is derogatory!” She bangs the table for emphasis. “How dare they? It’s just a book, for god’s sake. A love story in which people have sex – and they do do that, I seem to remember...”
She pauses for a moment.
“What the last year has done is made me slightly more confident about myself. I am trying to stop being so anxious about everything and enjoy living in the moment. Seize the day. I have to let it all wash over me, otherwise it is overwhelming. What I’d really like is to take two months off, put on my Ugg boots and write.”
She knows fans are desperate for a book from Christian’s point of view, but James’s current plan is to rewrite two novels she began some time ago.
And – hold the front page – they may not contain the sort of sex for which she has become so famous. “It has to be the story of two people coming together. One of the books has no sex scenes at all.”
“Well... I could always put some in...”

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sacred Songs

It’s unbelievable, the transition from desolate streets to completely filled energy where everybody is happy

Breathing Life, and Art, Into a Downtrodden Neighborhood

Jason Henry for The New York Times
BLANK SLATES A seemingly endless supply of warehouse walls presents an inviting canvas for graffiti artists in the Wynwood section of Miami. More Photos »
MIAMI — Ski, a New York graffiti artist, swirled a can of spray paint, blasting a riot of neon in this once-forlorn slab of Miami called Wynwood. A few doors down, in a pop-up store, another artist, Asif Farooq, was selling an array of firearms — actually cardboard replicas for those who like everything about a gun except the shooting.
Wandering past was the Art Baselmob, thousands of people moving from mural to mural, gallery to gallery, reveling in the neighborhood’s nooks and crannies: looking, buying and, just as invaluable, creating word spreading the word. This 10-year-old December migration from the core of Basel, the prestigious four-day art show at South Beach that ends on Sunday, to Wynwood, one of Miami’s grittier sections, has propelled the neighborhood onto the year-round must-see lists of intrepid visitors and locals.
The newfound allure of Wynwood is the latest testament to how art — and creative developers, like Tony Goldman, who helped remake SoHo and South Beach — can sprinkle its metaphysical magic and transform even the bleakest places.
“It’s unbelievable, the transition from desolate streets to completely filled energy where everybody is happy,” said Ski, who worked on the mural with 2esae and Col, two other graffiti artists, and is an Art Basel veteran.
A hiccup of time ago, trekking to Wynwood, a working-class Puerto Rican neighborhood, was a test in urban fortitude. Drugs, crime and a general sense of foreboding clung to the empty streets and warehouses.
The neighborhood, which sits in one of Miami’s roughest sections, endured a small riot in 1990 after a police officer was acquitted in the shooting death of a drug dealer. The riot was symptomatic of the area’s sense of isolation and served as a punctuation mark on 10 years of restiveness in Miami.
“There were a lot of body shops and dogs behind fences,” said David Lombardi, the founder of Lombardi Properties, who bought his first parcel here in the early 2000s. “Every window that had been a window had been locked up. Every fence that was here had barbed wire.”
Then Art Basel came to town in 2002, and the art slowly spilled over to lesser-traveled neighborhoods across the bay from Miami Beach. Satellite fairs popped up in the design district, which had long been home to furniture showrooms. When that became too expensive — Louis Vuitton and Hermès set up shop last year — attention drifted to midtown and Wynwood, both a bit farther south.
In the aesthetic hierarchy of Miami, which boasts an iconic waterfront skyline, synthetically sculptured women and crystalline beaches, Wynwood is as appealing as a dollar store. But, as the axiom goes, its location (and price) were irresistible.
Mr. Lombardi, fresh off buying properties that had turned to gold in South Beach, first visited Wynwood in 2000. His initial impression was that the neighborhood was too close to downtown Miami and Miami Beach to ignore. His second thought was that cheap warehouse space would be useful and the bargain rates were impossible to beat. So he started to buy.
As he meandered around streets littered with broken glass, he stumbled across two renegade art galleries in the neighborhood. Young people were hanging out, having drinks, talking art.
“It went off in my head like a light bulb,” said Mr. Lombardi, who, it seems, cannot wander too far without a greeting from a tenant. “I saw what could be done.”
Mr. Lombardi began to court struggling artists who did not have gallery representation and could no longer afford South Beach. As they moved into the neighborhood, he started Roving Fridays, a stroll for cutting-edge art lovers who wanted to see the new scene for themselves. It was the precursor to the overwhelmingly popular and raucous gallery walk that happens in Wynwood on the second Saturday of every month.
“By ’04, we probably had 15 to 18 galleries,” Mr. Lombardi said. “It was starting to happen. People liked the fact it was gritty and edgy. It was that dirty little secret.”
Serious art collectors like Martin Z. Marguiles held similar notions; he began the first phase of his gallery in a Wynwood warehouse in 1999. Donald and Mera Rubell were there even earlier; they kept their collection in a building that once stored goods confiscated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 10, 2012
A picture caption with an earlier version of this article misstated the role of the woman transporting beans from Panther Coffee, a Wynwood coffee roaster. She is a barista for Panther Coffee, not a customer.

Nobody's ever done that before

New House

Dad who thinks life is a paper bag
Gets heavier and heavier
You hold until the bottom drops out
Says make me a poem that starts sad
And ends happy
Nobody's ever done that before
He's never read the one about the dead people
Shining in paradise and the light reaching them
Out of colanders almost
Today he says his new house is like being
On vacation every day
That he sleeps like a baby
That the boxwood under his window
Is so pretty you want to pee in your pants
That he is happy all the time

Disposable Camera
The University of Chicago Press

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dave Brubeck, worldwide ambassador of jazz, dies at 91

Dave Brubeck, worldwide ambassador of jazz, dies at 91

In his seven-decade career, Dave Brubeck was both an artistic and a commercial success, a pianist and composer who expanded the musical landscape and who crossed other borders as one of the world’s foremost ambassadors of jazz.
He had an inventive style that brought international music into the jazz mainstream, but he was more than a musical innovator: He was an American original.
Jazz composer and pianist Dave Brubeck, whose pioneering style in pieces like “Take Five” captivated listeners with exotic rhythms, has died. We take a look back at his music and his story.
Jazz composer and pianist Dave Brubeck, whose pioneering style in pieces like “Take Five” captivated listeners with exotic rhythms, has died. We take a look back at his music and his story.
Mr. Brubeck died Dec. 5 at a hospital in Norwalk, Conn., one day before his 92nd birthday. His manager, Russell Gloyd, said Mr. Brubeck was on his way to a regular medical checkup when his heart gave out.
Considered one of the greatest figures of a distinctively American art form, Mr. Brubeck was a modest man who left a monumental legacy. His 1959 recording “Time Out,” with its infectious hit “Take Five,” became the first jazz album to sell 1 million copies. He toured once-forbidden countries in the Middle East and in the old Soviet empire and was honored by presidents and foreign dignitaries.
He wrote hundreds of tunes, including the oft-recorded “In Your Own Sweet Way” and “The Duke.” His quartet, featuring alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, was one of the most popular jazz groups in history, and he kept up a busy performing schedule into his 90th year.
He also composed ambitious classical and choral works, released nearly 100 albums, and remained a charismatic and indefatigable performer into old age. In December 2010, the month Mr. Brubeck turned 90, his quartet won the readers’ poll of DownBeat magazine as the best group in jazz — 57 years after he first won the poll.
A bespectacled cowboy who grew up on a remote California ranch, Mr. Brubeck was known for his complex rhythmic patterns, which he said were inspired by riding his horse and listening to its syncopated hoofbeats striking the ground. He studied in the 1940s with the experimental French composer Darius Milhaud, who encouraged his interest in jazz. Mr. Brubeck was among the first jazz musicians to make wide use of polytonality, or playing in more than one musical key at a time. He was an early advocate of “world music,” adopting exotic sounds that he heard in his travels.
After Mr. Brubeck formed a quartet in the early 1950s, his wife, Iola, suggested that the quartet perform on college campuses, which produced a nationwide sensation, with record sales to match.
“We reached them musically,” he told the New York Times in 1967. “We had no singers, no beards, no jokes. All we presented was music.”
With their curly hair and horn-rimmed glasses, Desmond and Mr. Brubeck looked like professorial brothers and were unlikely jazz stars. The two had an instant musical bond and could anticipate each other’s bandstand improvisations, as Desmond’s ethereal, upper-register saxophone soared above Mr. Brubeck’s driving keyboard attack.
With the release of “Time Out” in 1959, Mr. Brubeck had an unexpected best seller. The album reached No. 2 on the pop charts, and its eternally catchy signature tune, “Take Five,” became a surprise hit. Written by Desmond but heavily arranged by Mr. Brubeck, “Take Five” — with its unusual time signature of 5/4 — helped make the Dave Brubeck Quartet a leading jazz attraction of the 1950s and ’60s.

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