Three musicians are sitting in a bar . . .

. . . in Austria. At 3:00AM. The topic turns to “Funny titles for music”. We aren’t talking about the usual titles like “If You Won’t Leave Me, I’ll Find Somebody Who Will” by Warren Zevon, “Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop Cumma Cumma Wang Dang” by Monte Video and the Casettes, or “Satan Gave Me a Taco” by Beck. We are throwing out titles that could put you into a major existential crisis. Unfortunately, only one stuck with me, “The Negative Space of Speed” that I subtitled “A Musical Null Set“.

Returning from Austria I felt that this title/subtitle needed to actually exist as a piece of music. What I soon realized is there is no possible combination of pitches, rhythms, dynamics, and tempi that could adequately describe this piece. The title implies “not music” or the absence of music. From this realization I managed to score the work for a full wind symphony (minus the piano and harp).

The beauty of the work is its flexibility. It requires NO rehearsal, can be played with ANY combination of wind and percussion instruments, and the musician’s skill level is completely irrelevant. It can also be used to pad an otherwise sparse concert repertoire.

Let’s say that you’ve programmed your concert for six works. But one of the works will have to be cut. There are any number of reasons this could happen:

  • you discovered that you don’t have performance rights to the work
  • the guest soloist turns out to be a serial killer and is arrested the day before the performance
  • the Fire Marshall rules that you can’t play your pyrophone in the concert hall
  • or, the band just can’t play the music.

No problem. Pull the work and replace it with “The Negative Space of Speed“. Your program still has six works and it appears you’re playing a cool Avant-garde 21st century work. Which you are . . . at least conceptually.

Please note that this is not an homage to (or blatant ripoff of) 4’33”, John Cage’s work that explores the idea that segments of time can be filled with structured or ambient sound (noise). Both can be considered music. Additionally, Cage was interested in the behavior of the audience and how their actions contribute to the music.

The Negative Space of Speed” plays with the idea of zero duration. Without duration there can be no music – structured or otherwise. BUT oddly enough, there can still be performance. The conductor turns the page to the score, cues the ensemble, and the audience eagerly anticipates the downbeat of this new piece. What they don’t realize is they missed the piece entirely and the downbeat is for the next work on the list (probably “First Suite in E-flat for Military Band” by Gustav Holst). While this may not cause a near riot as did the premiere of Stravinsky’sThe Rite of Spring” it hopefully will fuel a lively audience discussion of what constitutes music.

And yes, you too can add “The Negative Space of Speed” to your repertoire. The perpetrators of this work have decided to make it a free download!! Just click here.



The Mahler Hammer at Eastman

The Eastman Philharmonia under Neil Varon’s baton performed Mahler’s 6th Symphony on 14Nov2018. In need of a Mahler Hammer (on short notice) Neil contacted me about either renting, buying, or having one made. Since the hammer detailed on this site was available from the Duke University Wind Symphony I worked with the Eastman School staff to have it shipped to them in time for their last rehearsals and performance.


Good striking form!


Mahler Hammers can also be used for “percussive maintenance”!




Just in case you thought . . .

. . . my previous post was useless, here’s something to consider.

You go to a nice restaurant and order a $40 glass of Domaine de Montille Corton Clos du Roi Grand. The sommelier pours you a bit, you swirl, smell, sip and nod your approval. The sommelier pours your wine and leaves you looking at the glass wondering if you’ve been cheated.

The shape of the glass is determined by the function sin(x). Here’s the plot (x=0.0 to 1.5 radians) from the R statistical system. It’s been rotated 90 degrees counter clockwise to make visualization easier and is marked at x=0.75 (half the height) and x=1.111871 (half-full by volume).


Using this as a template draw a cross-section of a nice wine glass and fill it to half the height (fig. 1) and half the volume (fig. 2) like so:


Being a beer kind of guy, if I’m going to spend $40 on a glass of wine, I want a full glass of wine. But, as you can see what appears to be a fairly full glass of wine is still only half full by volume. To prove this we can use the program from the previous post to calculate the volumes bounded by a = 0.0 and b = 1.111871 and a = 1.111871 and b=1.5. Here are the results:

[Walters-iMac:~/desktop] wemrt% python
lower_bound = 0.000000
upper_bound = 1.500000
height      = 1.500000
volume      = 2.245359
half-volume = 1.122680 <- This should be the volume of the
                          top half of the glass.

Tolerance : 0.000001
Iterations: 20
lower_bound = 0.000000
upper_bound = 1.111871
height      = 1.111871
volume      = 1.122679

Then using the upper_bound for the lower_bound and 1.5 for the upper bound:

[Walters-iMac:~/desktop] wemrt% python
lower_bound = 1.111871
upper_bound = 1.500000
height      = 0.388129
volume      = 1.122676 <- Off by 4 X 10^-6 rounding error.
half-volume = 0.561338

Tolerance : 0.000001
Iterations: 19
lower_bound = 1.111871
upper_bound = 1.315996
height      = 0.204125
volume      = 0.561337

So, yes you we’re being shorted by quite a lot of wine. Call the sommelier back, show him this post and tell him that for $40 he can bloody well give you half a glass of wine.


NCSE/UNC Spectrum Concert

The North Carolina Saxophone Ensemble and the UNC Saxophone Studio will perform on 11Apr2014 in the Kenan Music building rehearsal hall. The program notes for the concert will be projected on a large screen rather than printed, saving paper and allowing people to review the program both before and after the performance. To see the program notes click here.

Here are short descriptions of each piece.

Four5 – The fifth in a series of pieces for four players by John Cage. Cage wrote the “Number Pieces” later in his career. Click here for more information.

Melodies for Saxophone – Thirteen melodies written by Philip Glass for Jean Genet’s play “Prisoner Of Love” adapted by Joanne Akalaitis for the New York Theater Workshop.

The Difficulties – Electronica by Mark Engebretson and poetry by Brian Lampkin. For this performance a jazz baritone saxophone improvisation triggers electronic sounds to compliment the reading of Lampkin’s poem “The Difficulties”.

Far Away – Takatsugu Muramatsu is most noted for his work in film and television but “Far Away” was originally written for the Libera boys choir.

Last Tango in Bayreuth – Peter Schickele originally played this on piano as something of a party trick, eventually completing it as a quartet for four bassoons. It’s a tongue-in cheek tribute to Richard Wagner based on the “Tristan” chord from Tristan ind Isolde and a theme from “Overture to Act III” of Loehengrin.

Shetland Sequence – An arrangement of Shetland jigs by the British saxophonist Jan Steele. The jigs included are “Jack broke da prison door”, “Donald Blue”, “Sleep sound ida morning'”, “Lassies trust in providence”, and “Bonnie Isle o’Whaljay”.

Ecstatic Fanfare – An arrangement of the brass fanfare from the first movement of Steven Bryant’s “Ecstatic Waters” for wind ensemble.

Smiles and Chuckles / Beautiful Ohio Blues – These two pieces date from the early 20th century and were written for the Columbia Saxophone Sextet and The Six Brown Brothers. The arranger, David Lovrien, transcribed the pieces from recordings made on wax cylinders making these truly authentic saxophone pieces.

Capriol Suite – A collection of six dances with a Renaissance flavor written in 1926 by Peter Warlock. Originally written as a piano duet, Warlock re-scored the work for orchestra.

Festive Overture, Opus 96 –  Dmitri Shostakovich wrote this work in three days for the 37th anniversary of the October Revolution in 1954. Stylistically it is based on Glinka‘s Russlan and Ludmilla overture written in 1842.

Trilogy – A transcription of the opening vocal section of the larger work of the same name by Keith Emerson and Greg Lake with the tenor sax taking the vocal solo and the ensemble covering the piano parts.