BBC Reith Lectures 2006 – In the Beginning was Sound

In the Beginning was Sound (well it is called the Big Bang)

St John said, “In the beginning was the word”, while Goethe claimed that, “In the beginning was the deed”.

But Daniel Barenboim contends that In the beginning was sound. This year the BBC Radio – Reith Lectures were given by Daniel Barenboim

Shall we do a quick check of the man’s cred?

He gave his first concert at the age of seven, and by eleven he’d been declared a phenomenon by the legendary conductor Wilhelm Fürtwangler. His life has been and continues to be saturated with music. A virtuoso at the piano, he later became one of the most respected conductors of his generation, currently he’s Music Director of both the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin State Opera.

In the lectures he’ll be drawing on his experience to demonstrate that music, as he puts it, “is a way to make sense of the world – our politics, our history, our future, and our very essence”.

There have been many definitions of music which to my mind have only described a subjective reaction to it. The only really precise one to me is the one by Ferruccio Busoni, the great Italian pianist and composer, who said that music is sonorous air. It says everything and it says nothing. Of course, appropriate moment to quote Neitszche, who said that life without music would be a mistake.

And now we come to the first question – why? Why is music so important? Why is music something more than something very agreeable or exciting to listen to? Something that, through its sheer power, and eloquence, gives us formidable weapons to forget our existence and the chores of daily life. My contention is that this is of course possible, and is practised by millions of people who like to come home after a long day at the office, put their feet up, if possible have the luxury of somebody giving them a drink while they do that, and put on the record and forget all the problems of the day. But my contention is that music has another weapon that it delivers to us, if we want to take it, and that is one through which we can learn a lot about ourselves, about our society, about the human being, about politics, about society, about anything that you choose to do.

So Ithink it’s safe to say he might have a clue about what he is talking about.

I discovered the Reith Lectures last year and found them to be fascinating, last year was about tech and this year about music. Going well isn’t it. They are in MP3’s that you can listen to or transcripts that you can read.

Check them out.

Mozart’s Melody Machine

I have been fascinated with stochastic composition methods for a long time, there are some wonderful ideas and theories that I have seen or thought up over the years and it appears I am not alone. This comes from an article entitled Math Trek: Mozart’s Melody Machine by Ivars Peterson at Science News Online

The short version goes like this (but do read the article, it’s a ripper).

In the late 18th century in Europe Music Publishers vied with one another to print the works of the latest “hot” composer. One of the tricks of the trade to get the punters in was to publish systems that would allow any amateur to compose music without having to know anything about composition.

The London music publisher Welcker, for example, issued a “Tabular System whereby the Art of Composing Minuets is made so easy that any person, without the least Knowledge of Musick, may compose ten thousand, all different, and in the most pleasing and correct Manner.”

This is so cool. It seems that Mozart, Bach and others have all invented these musical dice games. And with New York getting ready for the 250th Anniversary “Mostly Mozart” Festival it seems like it might be a good time to have a look at Mozart’s games.

Mozart Transcript

RIP Syd Barrett

By now you will probably have heard that Pink Floyd’s legendary founder, Syd Barrett has died at his Cambridgeshire home.

Here is a quote from the New Music Express…

The singer, 60, who suffered from an LSD-induced breakdown while at the peak of his career in the Sixties, died last Friday (July 7). It has been reported that he died from complications related to diabetes, however, other reports suggest the cause of death was cancer.NME.COM – News – Pink Floyd legend Syd Barrett dies

There is a ton of “new” SYd footage out there now, but my favourite is courtesy of Bedazzled Pink Floyd on “Look of the Week” 1967 with Hans Keller berating them for being to loud. Not too long after this the band got David Gilmour as second guitar and within a year Syd had left (or the band left Syd). Saucerful of Secrets was released with only one Syd Barrett track and that was the end of his career with Floyd.

But not his influence, for me, Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” with Shine On You Crazy Diamond (their tribute to Syd) will always be their best album and I can still remember in the late Sixties listening to Piper at the Gates of Dawn and being blown away, Astromomy Domine is the piece that they play on “Look of the Week”. I would set the speakers on the stereo up and make sure that I was sitting precisely in the middle. So that I would hear everything exactly how They wanted me too. Listening to Syd’s guitar and wondering how the hell did he get it to sound like that.

Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd are one of the bands that helped shape my taste in music. The band and Sid maybe gone but the music and what I learnt from them about the power of sounds I still use today.

Over at Sharpeworld there is a link to peter whitehead’s experimental film featuring some footage of Pink Floyd’s first recording session, I dont know avout the movie, but the band sound great.

Alert: We are talking about alerts

As some of you will know I am one of a trio of contributors over at the Duggup blog. The rationale is basically “live music isn’t dead… YET”. Anyway, running this new site is producing some amazing results.

Not the least of which is, I wrote a post about an Italian musician last Sunday and by 6:00pm he had left a comment that he was “indeed singing in English” (read the post). Now that’s about an elapsed time of 30 hours. So the question I was left with was “How did he know that unadvertised and obscure website halfway around the world had written a review of his music”?

It’s a ripper little question and I think I have the answer to it here and needless to say Google appears in it somewhere (you sort of knew it would).

The Short version:
Google Alerts lets you set up Google searches.
When new “hits” to those searches are posted on the Internet, Google Alerts sends you an e-mail with a link to it.
As tools go it’ s a no brainer

The Long Version:

Let’s say you have a blog called “duggup” (oh look, there’s one I prepared earlier)

  • Step 1. Go to
  • Step 2. Look down the left side of the page for “News Alerts.” and click on it (there is a little envelope icon)
  • Step 3. Add the “keywords” you want to be told about. I am using “duggup” {I use quotes around the search}
  • Step 4. Choose the type “News & Web” from the drop-down menu
  • Step 5. How often do you want a to be told about a “hit”. Lets try “As it Happens” from the next drop down menu
  • Step 6. Add your e-mail address and click “Create Alert”

That’s it, from now on, it just works (well that’s the theory).

Now here is a thought, if the search you are setting up is likely to generate a ton of information coming at you regularly, consider setting up a GMail account and using it to bear the brunt of the it. Leave a comment if you need an invite)

Have fun, the uses of this are really only limited by your imagination. AND yes I wll have an inbox with a bunch of links to this post in about 24 hours. I will paste it in as an update when it arrives.

Alerts ThumbnailUPDATE: The Alert arrived at 10:29am on Sunday… about 30 hours. Click on the picture to see what it looks like in Gmail.

Real World Studios Remixed Competition

Real World Studios started out as Peter Gabriel’s “home studio” and then like all good toys, grew like topsy. The studio has recorded (apart from Peter Gabriel’s works) , AfroCelt and Flook and a ton of other artists as well.

They are celebrating twenty years of Real World Studios by making available a sample pack; including all the vocals, from Peter’s original multitracks of Shock The Monkey. Recorded between spring 1981 and summer 1982 this track was one of the first to use sampling technology. Peter utilised the ground breaking Fairlight CMI and you can hear it and other classic machines such as the Linn Drum and the Prophet 5 synth throughout the sample pack.

and as icing on the cake they have announced the Real World Studios Remixed Competition

We’re pleased to announce the first Real World Remixed competition in association with Peter Gabriel, who’s given us Shock The Monkey to remix and Solid State Logic, who are donating a great prize.

Download the pack when it becomes available on the 28th of June, remix, then upload your finished mix back to this site – we’re going to be keeping an eye on the peer reviews and ratings, then we’ll sit down with Peter and listen to the pick of the mixes here in the first week of October. The winner will be announced on October 7th.

I know what I am going to be doing for the next couple of weeks.

Oh, there is also an AfroCelt sample pack for remixing as well. Yum.

UPDATE: Solid State Logic are providing one of the prizes. SSL has also started a new community site, called Mix Buss, which looks pretty cool Some of the articles are lifted straight from S.O.S. (Sound on Sound magazine), so there is some connection there, but I have always enjoyed the writing in SOS.

As Slow As Possible

As Slow As Possible (ASLSP or ASAP) is a musical piece composed by John Cage in 1985 for piano. Typically a performance of the piano piece lasts for about 20 minutes. Around 2 years later Cage reworked the piece to be played on an organ.

Move forward in time about ten years (a mere eyeblink as you will see), in 1997, a group of musicians and philosophers discussed the implications of his instruction to play the piece “as slow as possible”, now given that unlike a piano where the sound dies away after the string is struck, an organ keeps playing a note until the key is released (or the rubber band runs down), this means that “As Slow As Possible” could take a very long time indeed.

Move forward a few more years and a project emerges to perform the piece in the St. Burchardi church in Halberstadt, Germany and it’s going to take a total of 639 years to play. Which is a seriously extreme interpretation of the title.

Why 639 years?

Glad you asked. This length was decided based on the estimated lifespan of the organ.

You see the St. Burchardi church was built in the year 1361, the first big organ had been constructed in that church. And the performance was due to start in 2000, 639 years late.
So after a bit of toing and froing, and attending to some minor details like building a new organ, the actual performance commenced in the St. Burchardi church on September 5, 2001 (Cage was born on September 5), ironically the piece begins with a rest… that lasts about a year and a half, until February 5, 2003. The first chord was played from then until July 5, 2005. There was a chord change just recently. and the next two are in 2008. The performance is planned to continue until September 4, 2640.

To help you plan your trip, here is the game plan for the first 60plus years from the ASLSP – John-Cage-Orgelprojekt Halberstadt website.


John Cage ORGAN2/ASLSP, 639 Jahre, Teil 1
K = Klang Anfang, P = Pause / Klang Ende


Impuls 1: 5. 09. 2001
Impuls 2: K: gis’, h’, gis’’ 5. 02. 2003
Impuls 3: K: e, e’ 5. 07. 2004
Impuls 4: P: gis’, h’ 5. 07. 2005
Impuls 5: K: a’, c’’, fis’’ 5. 01. 2006
Impuls 6: P: e, e’ 5. 05. 2006
Impuls 7: K: c’, as’ 5. 07. 2008
Impuls 8: P: c’ 5. 11. 2008
Impuls 9: K: d’, e’’ 5. 02. 2009
Impuls10: P: e’’ 5. 07. 2010
Impuls11: P: d’, gis’’ 5. 02. 2011
Impuls12: K/P:   c’(16’), des’(16’), as’   5. 08. 2011
Impuls13: P: a’, c’’, fis’’ 5. 07. 2012
Impuls14: K: dis’, ais’, e’’ 5. 10. 2013
Impuls15: K: gis, e’ 5. 09. 2020
Impuls16: P: gis 5. 02. 2022
Impuls17: K: d’ 5. 02. 2024
Impuls18: K: a’ 5. 08. 2026
Impuls19: P: e’ 5. 10. 2027
Impuls20: K: g 5. 04. 2028
Impuls21: P: d’ 5. 08. 2028
Impuls22: P: a’ 5. 03. 2030
Impuls23: P: dis’, e’’ 5. 09. 2030
Impuls24: P: g 5. 05. 2033
Impuls25: K: h 5. 12. 2033
Impuls26: K: f, d’ 5. 08. 2034
Impuls27: P: f, d’ 5. 09. 2034
Impuls28: P: h 5. 10. 2034
Impuls29: K: des’’ 5. 06. 2035
Impuls30: K/P: A (16’)des’’ 5. 09. 2037
Impuls31: K: as’, as’’ 5. 03. 2038
Impuls32: P: as’’ 5. 07. 2038
Impuls33: P: as’ 5. 05. 2039
Impuls34: K: d’, as’ 5. 12. 2039
Impuls35: P: d’, as’ 5. 04. 2040
Impuls36: K: des, b 5. 01. 2041
Impuls37: P: des, b 5. 03. 2042
Impuls38: P: A (16’) 5. 11. 2043
Impuls39: K: a, d’ 5. 07. 2044
Impuls40: K/P: e’ais’ 5. 03. 2045
Impuls41: K: h’, c’’, ais’’ 5. 03. 2046
Impuls42: P: c’(16’), h’, c’’, ais’’ 5. 10. 2047
Impuls43: K: c (16’) 5. 02. 2049
Impuls44: K: dis’, a’ 5. 04. 2050
Impuls45: P: a, d’, e’ 5. 02. 2051
Impuls46: P: dis’, a’ 5. 11. 2051
Impuls47: K: es, h 5. 05. 2053
Impuls48: P: c (16’) 5. 11. 2054
Impuls49: P: es, h 5. 07. 2056
Impuls50: K: b’ 5. 08. 2057
Impuls51: K: A (16’) 5. 05. 2058
Impuls52: P: A (16’) 5. 11. 2059
Impuls53: K: ges’, c’’, des’’ 5. 04. 2060
Impuls54: P: ges’, c’’, des’’ 5. 06. 2060
Impuls55: K/P: e’b’ 5. 11. 2060
Impuls56: K: h’, c’’, es’’, c’’’ 5. 02. 2061
Impuls57: P: c’’, es’’, c’’’ 5. 04. 2061
Impuls58: K/P: d’e’ 5. 09. 2061
Impuls59: K: ais, dis’, fis’ 5. 08. 2062
Impuls60: P: ais, fis’ 5. 02. 2064
Impuls61: K/P: a, a’dis’ 5. 01. 2067
Impuls62: P: d’ 5. 06. 2067
Impuls63: P: a, a’ 5. 07. 2068
Impuls64: P: des’(16’) 5. 03. 2071
Impuls65: P: h’ 5. 07. 2071

Ende Teil 1: 4. 09. 2072
Anfang Teil 2: 5. 09. 2072

And so on until 2639 the final of the performance

So this isn’t music that you can tap your feet to or sing along with. But then again very little that Cage did was. At the moment I find it most fascinating that all of the interest is in the chord changes rather than the drone of the notes. Why are we always attracted to the “border conditions”, the places and times where stuff transforms into something new, maybe that’s what Cage wanted us to see? Well in this case there about 634 years to figure it out.

DANIEL J. WAKIN of The New York Times wrote a great article entitled “An Organ Recital for the Very, Very Patient” and there is some more info available at the invaluable wikipedia.

Oh and if you were wondering about power outages, they have solar power cells and a backup generator on hand in case the electricity is interrupted.