The New Year, Handel, and Technological Disruption

January 4, 2013

I suppose I should think about a New Year’s resolution or three. One obvious resolution might be to post a tad more on the jolly old blog. On the other hand, maybe I should give up. According to a new poll over at Telescoper, the only thing worse than Peter’s blog is mine.

Another resolution could be to decide once and for all whether I am elitist or populist and act accordingly. I’ve noticed I tend to be snooty about books and populist about music.

A couple of days back I went to the annual New Year performance of The Messiah at the Usher Hall, with classically minded friends. The interval picnic was rather fun. I also enjoyed the classical concert version of the seventh inning stretch. When the Hallelujah Chorus bit arrives, everybody stands up. Apparently this may or may not be something to do with George II standing up at this point in seventeen umpty ump. Chum Robin calls it “Heaven’s National Anthem”. The music is rather good. Lots of fine tunes, and enough complexity to entertain. Occasionally very profound and moving. But the singing … hmmm. Still can’t get this. Opera singers and classical singers don’t seem to actually sing the note, but kinda surround it in a sort of weird oscillation. Compared to normal modern popular music singing, operatic style singing just doesn’t seem musical.

Of course, historically, this weird ugly style of singing came about because it was the only way to sing loud enough in big halls and approximate being in tune. It didn’t take long after the invention of the microphone for Bing Crosby et al to re-invent the art of singing. Together with recording technology and the radio, this completely transformed the performance, distribution, economics, and demographics of music.

But ”classical” singing remained unchanged.   Opera and classical fans seem to have an instinct that the wobble thing is a truer and better way to sing, and that amplification is always distorting, but I ain’t convinced. It looks to me like hanging onto the weird singing style is a sociological thing, going along with the picnics and the standing up bit, as well as the performer dress code and the unspoken rules about when you applaud and when you don’t, and never speaking to the audience, and so on and so on. Its particularly strange when performing Handel, or Monteverdi say – its not that it preserves the original atmosphere, but a strange upper middle class Victorian atmosphere from a time somewhere in between the creation of the music and our own time.

There are some analogies to academia here … but thats another post…

Social and anti-social astronomers

June 7, 2011

Its exam time. Don’t we love it. Students and Staff alike. We do ours a little earlier than most, so my marking is all done and we are in the middle of exam boards. Its a multi-stage process these days, with separate special circumstances committees, pre-boards, and stage-1 course boards, before the official final exam board. The latter then largely homologates the recommendations of these earlier committees. Probably more efficient than it used to be, but even more bureaucratic. So we all look forward to the small amount of socialisation that goes with the process – the annual exam board dinner !

So there we were last night, at Blonde. By the way, I recommend you don’t Google “Blonde, Edinburgh” unless you have safe search switched on. Or on the other hand… anyway. It was a fairly usual mix. Gossiping about George and Carlos and the Gruber Prize, bitching about absent members of staff, and as the wine flowed on, bitching about present members of staff. But there was also an interesting conversation about Blogs and Twitter.

Nearly everybody present was a Luddite and thought blogs and tweeting were onanistic and time wasting. A polite exception was made for my blog, and Peter’s, on account of they were (at least sometimes) a useful community conversation forum. Myself and @wikimir and @paula_wilkie were the only Tweeters. To everybody else, Twitter seemed even more clearly bizarrely pointless. People thought the idea of @WETI was funny, but that was seen as a joke on Tweeting. I was challenged to describe a real use of Twitter. About the best I could come up with was that Paul Crowther knew everything first, and that if you followed him on Twitter, you would know everything second. The response to this was “whats the hurry ?”

Then this morning I became aware of an interesting new attempt to make Twitter useful – the Astronomy Journal Club, set up by Emma Rigby, Matt Burleigh, and Emily Baldwin. I learned about it first in Sarah Kendrew’s blog post here. Its all brand new, so who knows if its going to work, but why not give it a go ?

Monday Miscellany

June 2, 2008

(1) Having just got a Macbook, I am getting back into Unix. Got Unix in a Nutshell to brush up. Hmm. How can anything 906 pages long be “in a nutshell” ?

(1b) There must be a joke in there somewhere about kernels and shells and so on. Err… never mind.

(1c) Or possibly a Hamlet-ish sort of joke ? King of infinite space and all that ?

(2) The consultation panel reports are all done and dusted. But you can’t see ’em yet. Soon.

(2b) PPAN and Science Board have met. No leaks. A few days ago the STFC website had a news item called Update from Science Board. It has to be the dullest news item ever. “Hem. We had a meeting. It was a meeting of the Science Board. The meeting that took place was a meeting that was one of the Science Board. At this meeting, Science Board matters were discussed. Discussions that took place were discussions that pertained to the business of the Science Board. The Board had such discussions, and such discussions were had. By the Science Board. At a meeting. This meeting was one of a series of Science Board meetings.”

(2c) News from Council on July 1st will be vastly more gripping.

(3) I can tell nothing exciting has happened recently, as my stats are down by a factor of several. Honestly, a chap writes deep stuff about Mars and Religion and so on, but all you want is the dirt on STFC.

(4) The other day, the Head of College introduced me to a Very Senior Figure from the BBSRC. This chap from BBSRC said he knew perfectly well who I was, as he reads my blog regularly. Crikey. Errr but.. said I .. you are not an astronomer or even a Physicist ? No, said he, but we read it to find out whats going on at STFC. Blimey. I tried to explain it shouldn’t be taken as authoritative information, just personal opinion, and a space for the usual suspects to let off steam.

(4b) This sort of thing must p*** off STFC staffers, seeing distorted and unreliable information filtering through the blogosphere. Apparently they have decided that if ye cannae beat ’em, ye join ’em. A wee birdie tells me that Richard Wade has started an internal blog especially for STFC staff.

(4c) I have not seen the new blog, as it is only an internal thing for STFC staff. And no I can’t give you the URL. Even if I was naughty enough to want to do so, I can’t because it ain’t that simple. It seems that to read Wadey’s blog you have to follow a six step registration process.

(5) Err … that’s it.