Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Blog Has Moved

Today is the last current post.  I have already begun daily posts at www.tonalrefraction.com/blog.html.  Visit me there.  Make your presence known.

While you're there check out the rest of the site.


Are Dots Digital?

I'm talking about the little dots attached to "stems" and "flags" or "beams" that are the stuff of standard music notation.

In relation to what sound actually is they are, in fact, digital, as pixels are that, try as they may, cannot make a curved line.

The irony with the music dots is that the less ink they require (think whole notes) the more they contain (think length / compounded resonance).

I am pretty sure that many musicians take the dot for the thing and quickly lose interest.  I have been there, done it, suffered the loss.

I know what it's about.

Monday, February 9, 2015


New location:  Take a look:  www.tonalrefraction.com.  While there visit the site's other pages.

Why Don't We Learn to Value the Multi-dimensionality of Sound?

Simple answer: It takes too long.

More complicated answer: In order to do so you would have to sit still - already an out-of-date proposition.  And you would have to not listen to any canned music for a period of time: a week, say, or more.

Why?  Because the processed version of sound that survives electronic manipulation of any kind is by definition reduced in terms of its resonance, its tone space, if you will.

We are so accustomed to that other product that we don't know the difference unless we make ourselves notice it.

It's a bit like food.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Reacting to Knowledge is not Reacting to Sound

"It's an A.  Go away and don't bother me; I know how to play that note!"

"Do you really?  What if I play a bass F while you play it, and then a lower octave F: does it change the A?"

"Hmmm.  It feels different."

This acknowledgement that it feels different is the beginning of grasping that the character of sound is multi-dimensional and that no theoretical explanation of identity or function will account for the ingenuity that Beethoven employs to make you taste the difference between the A in different contexts.

Saturday, February 7, 2015


As of yesterday, Feb. 6 the blog posts are going up on my website: www.tonalrefraction.com See you there!

And while you're there take a look at the rest of the site and let me know what you think.

Attention Span too Short?

Yesterday I had one of those bus-ride chats with a colleague who had just performed a "Schubert's Last Year" recital the previous evening.  His program had been wisely chosen; it made me wish I had heard it.

Rather than play all three of the last great piano sonatas - something pianists feel is now de rigeur - he had chosen instead to play the F minor Fantasy for four hands, the Shepherd on the Rock for soprano, clarinet, and piano, and one of the last sonatas, the big B-flat.  He was commenting on the difficulty audiences express about paying attention to the long sonatas, how much more interesting they find opera.

That led me to recall how I turned Schubert sonatas into one-performer operas instead of sonatas a la Beethoven, and how differently they come out.  (It is not an unlikely approach, as Schubert during his 31 years on earth walked around with 18 operas in his head, not all of them finished or even undertaken, but still...)  What is the difference?

We approach sonatas, I should say, some of us approach sonatas as if they involve themes and the treatment of themes.  If approached as an opera the music becomes immediately speech-driven rather than abstract -- as generally presented a theme is, in comparison to speech, abstract.

I do not approach Classical sonatas in that way, because I feel that the piano was always, from day one, an inflected instrument; that it prompted so much composition because of that quality.  Listening to or for themes involves repetition and is essentially boring because it entails repetition.  Listening to individual tones come alive is never dull.  Every sonata thus played is too short.