Rules were meant to be broken

June 26th, 2013

In honor of the Vancouver Jazz Festival that is happening right now I thought I’d take a look at jazz in the third Reich. Probably could have segued into that a bit better but what are you going to do.

As you may or may not know, Germany was a jazz mecca in the 1920’s and art in general was loose and liberal. American jazz bands made guest appearances in Berlin and soon German musicians were copying this new style of music or creating their own.

Here’s German Eric Borchard “ Aggravatin Papa “ 1924

In the 20’s, what would later become Nazi’s , were not pleased with jazz as it was considered un-German but there was little they could do about it as their political party was in its infancy and they held no political or social clout .

However things changed drastically in the 1930’s as the Nazi’s rose to power. Jazz and Swing music were considered un-German in that they flew in the face of the Nazi doctrine of rigidity and marching in strict time. Jazz was the antithesis of this with its odd time signatures and improvisations and of course it’s association with black Americans and Jews who the Nazi’s labeled degenerates.

So what did Hitler and his cronies listen to?

From A Teachers Guide to the Holocaust…
Under the Nazi regime, all music produced had to fit within certain standards defined as “good” German music. Suppression of specific artists and their works was common, yet musicians were permitted limited artistic freedom. The Nazis attempted to create a balance between censorship and creativity in music to appease the German people.
This blend of art and politics led to a three-prong policy regarding musicians and artists:
-Loyal Nazi members who were talented musicians were guaranteed a job.
– Nazi members who were not talented musicians were not guaranteed a job.
– Any non-Jewish person who demonstrated a “genius” for music and was a member of the Reichsmusikkammer (Reich Music Chamber) was permitted employment. This exception in policy permitted musicians like conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler and composer Richard Strauss to continue working.

According to Hitler and Goebbels (Hitler’s second in command), the three master composers that represented good German music were Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, and Anton Bruckner. All three composers lived prior to the 20th century.

So to what end would the Nazi’s go to enforce these standards? Obviously if you were a Jewish German musician, you looked for other means of employment, There were a few places you could play jazz music for Jews but as the Nazi’s grew more popular these establishments become few and far between.

Josef Skvorecky in the intro to his novel” The Bass Saxophone “, recalls faithfully a set of regulations, issued by a Gauleiter — a regional official for the Reich — as binding on all local dance orchestras during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia:

1/ Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of
light orchestras and dance bands;
2/ in this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a
major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;
3/ As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones so
called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro,
commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will
Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called
breaks) be tolerated;
4/ so-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must
consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses
characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the
German people (so-called riffs);
5/ strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called
cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of
wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat,
6/ also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat
(except in stylized military marches);
7/ the double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions;
8/ plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and
detrimental to Aryan musicality; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable
for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed
to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;
9/ musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat);
10/ all light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.

The above regulations have cleverly been made into a creative work and was featured on Hugh Marsh’s solo album “ Shaking the Pumpkin “ with Robert Palmer and Lisa Dalbello doing a fine job on the narration.

An interesting phenomenon that sprang up during this time were the Swingjugend – Swing Kids. Much like punk was a reaction to Thatcherism, Swing Kids were a reaction to the Third Reich.
The first German ‘Swing Cliques’, as they were snidely termed in Nazi jargon, originated in 1935-36 in Hamburg, Berlin, and Frankfurt am Main. Incidentally, though the term Swingjugend (Swing Youth) also derives from Nazi parlance and is similarly discriminatory in intent, it became the standard term. By contrast, the term ‘Swing Kids’ is not historically founded and appeared for the first time in the film of the same name (USA 1993, Dir. Thomas Carter). In the first years of the war, the Swingjugend movement registered a comparably large influx of members and developed into a protest movement that the Nazi regime had to take seriously. The Swingjugend rejected the Nazi state, above all because of its ideology and uniformity, its militarism, the ‘Führer principle’ and the leveling Volksgemeinschaft (people’s community). They experienced a massive restriction of their personal freedom. They rebelled against all this with jazz and swing, which stood for a love of life, self-determination, non-conformism, freedom, independence, liberalism, and internationalism.
In addition to the polite external appearance of the Swingjugend which accompanied a cool and laid-back demeanor based on Anglo-American clothing and lifestyle, the Nazis were affronted above all else by their liberal attitude towards life. Because the Swingjugend hardly bothered about curfews, bans on dancing, or the ban on listening on so-called ‘enemy radio stations’ once the war began, they got into further conflicts with the Nazi state. Added to this, the Swingjugend began to express their oppositional stance more and more explicitly. This ranged from their mockery of the Nazi movement through provocative actions and violent confrontations to their refusal of compulsory membership in the Hitlerjugend (HJ, or Hitler Youth) and in the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM, or League of German Girls) or of military service in the army. However, commitment to jazz led to their discrimination, isolation, and, finally, criminalization, only when it occurred in connection with non-musical reasons for oppression (alleged moral waywardness, rejection of service in the HJ or BDM, being of the Jewish faith, etc.). Such acts resulted in swing enthusiasts having to suffer all kinds of sanctions and acts of reprisals. But the fight against the Swingjugend was hampered by the fact that the Nazi state had no nationwide agreed-upon means of dealing with them. Also, in the Swingjugend the Nazis were not confronting a unified organization, but loosely organized, informal peer-groups of friends.

Until next time, keep swinging.

And a one and a zero and a one and a zero…

June 21st, 2013


As I sat at my computer the other day, I was wondering just what odd audio topic I should write about this week. I’ve been on a real Stanley Kubrick kick as of late, devouring all I can about the great late artist and I thought of AI. My least favorite of his films and quite frankly a real “ dogs breakfast “. But I wondered just how far music software has come. It’s been decades since computer programs could produce simple accompaniments but had computers progressed to the point were their artificial intelligence could create music, unassisted by humans?

The answer is yes!

The photo at the beginning of the blog is the “ Iamus “ computer cluster which resides at the Universidad de Málaga.
From Wikipedia…
Iamus’ Opus one, created on October 15, 2010 is the first fragment of professional contemporary classical music ever composed by a computer in its own style [2] (rather than attempting to emulate the style of existing composers as was previously done by David Cope, who developed the EMI program, which powers the Emily Howell program)

So how does it work in terms we can all understand?

From BBC Technology Jan. 02, 2013
“ Iamus is fed with specific information setting out, for example, which instruments have to be composed for and the desired duration.
Just as human genomes mutated over time to create a multitude of unique people, Iamus alters and rearranges its source material to create complex pieces of music. The only restrictions placed on its output are determined by what can be realistically played by a musician and their instrument.
It evolves the composition inside the machine, says Francisco Vico. Then a human selects from the set of compositions that Iamus provides.”
Iamus takes just eight minutes to create a score of contemporary classical music. Which begs the question how can something be classical and contemporary at the same time? But enough about wordplay. I’m sure you want to hear just what Iamus can do.

Also from Wikipedia…
Commenting on the authenticity of the music, Stephen Smoliar, critic of classical music at The San Francisco Examiner, commented “What is primary is the act of making the music itself engaged by the performers and how the listener responds to what those performers do… what is most interesting about the documents generated by Iamus is their capacity to challenge the creative talents of performing musicians”.

To me, Iamus is but a novel and interesting example of artificial intelligence. The composition that you heard is musically sound but kind of out there and it wouldn’t be something I’d hum while jogging.
But that’s just me. What did you think? I guess the next step would be for the programmers to continue working on a computers ability to emote. At present, that seems to be the greatest difference between a human score and one generated by a computer.

Throat Singing

June 13th, 2013

Today’s blog is all about throat singing and it’s various forms. You may find this practice referred to as overtone singing, which is the ability to produce two distinct pitches at the same time. However, in all the examples I have thus far looked at or listened to, I have yet to hear two distinct pitches at the same time. So I’ll just call it throat singing.

Today, I’ll show you three different types: Tibetan, Tuvan and Inuit.

The first one I want to discuss is Tuvan throat singing because to me this is very odd and quiet frankly makes my throat sore just listening to it. This is some pretty crazy singing but super cool and without further adieu…
Love that guy!

From National Geographic online September 20, 1999…
Among the many ways the pastoralists interact with and represent their aural environment, one stands out for its sheer ingenuity: a remarkable singing technique in which a single vocalist produces two distinct tones simultaneously. One tone is a low, sustained fundamental pitch, similar to the drone of a bagpipe. The second is a series of flutelike harmonics, which resonate high above the drone and may be musically stylized to represent such sounds as the whistle of a bird, the syncopated rhythms of a mountain stream or the lilt of a cantering horse.

From the University or New South Wales online…
In this technique, the singer emphasizes one high harmonic of the voice to such an extent that it is heard separately from the low-pitched note being sung. Different notes in the harmonic series may be chosen by changing the frequency of the resonance in the vocal tract that gives rise to it.

Ok on to a style of singing closer to home which is Inuit throat singing or kataijaq. This type of singing is usually done in pairs and by women. It’s a song and a game played at the same time, as the first one to mess up or run out of breath is the loser.

A discussion on kataijaq would not be complete without talking about Tanya Tagaq who really brought this type of singing to the masses. Tanya is a bit of an anomaly as she sings both parts to herself and I’ll let her do the talking or singing…

Last but not least and probably the form that we all know the most is
Tibetan throat singing…

Short and sweet today and if you are interested in learning how to throat sing, there are many tutorials on youtube. Until we meet again…

Making Music with Nature

June 6th, 2013

This week’s blog is all about using the natural environment to create sound. A number of artists from around the world have used the power of wind and sea to create some beautiful installations and below are just a few that I personally like.

The singing ringing tree found in Burnley, UK

From the independent Aug 16 2008…
The piece, designed in the shape of a wind-blown tree by the architects Tonkin Liu, is formed from a swirl of steel pipes which produce a haunting and melodious hum as the wind drifts through them from across the moor. The noise is melodic enough not to disturb the surrounding wildlife

The Wave Organ San Francisco, USA

The Wave Organ is a wave-activated acoustic sculpture located on a jetty in the San Francisco Bay. The concept was developed by Peter Richards and was installed in collaboration with sculptor and master stone mason George Gonzales. Inspiration for the piece came from artist Bill Fontana’s recordings made of sounds emanating from a vent pipe of a floating concrete dock in Sydney, Australia.
The Wave Organ is located on a jetty that forms the small Boat Harbor in the Marina district of San Francisco, walking distance from the Exploratorium. The jetty itself was constructed with material taken from a demolished cemetery, providing a wonderful assortment of carved granite and marble, which was used in the construction of this piece. The installation includes 25 organ pipes made of PVC and concrete located at various elevations within the site, allowing for the rise and fall of the tides. Sound is created by the impact of waves against the pipe ends and the subsequent movement of the water in and out of the pipes. The sound heard at the site is subtle, requiring visitors to become sensitized to its music, and at the same time to the music of the environment. The Wave Organ sounds best at high tide.

Sea Organ found in Zadar Croatia

from the tourist board site…
Sea Organ is situated near the new cruiser port, as a part of Zadar’s Riva, and can be observed as a differently shaped part of the coast which consists of several stairs that descend into the sea. The stairs extend for about 70 meters along the coast, under them, at the lowest sea-tide level, 35 pipes of different lenght, diameter and tilts were built in vertically to the coast and they raise aslant until the paved part of the shore and end in a canal (a service corridor). On the pipes there are LABIUMS (whistles), which play 7 chords of 5 tones. Above the canal there are perforated stone stairs through which the sound comes out, the air pushed by the sea.

This site is a blend of human ideas and skills and the energy of the sea, waves, tide and flood, a place for relaxation, contemplation and conversation while listening to an endless concert of mystic harmonies of the “Orchestra of Nature”.

Sea Organ is constructed according to the project made by architect Nikola Bašić with the help of several experts: Professor Vladimir Andročec was the sea hydraulics consultant from the Zagreb Civil Engineering University, the pipes were made by Goran Ježina from Murter, a well-known organ art workshop – Heferer from Zagreb made 35 labiums for every pipe, and it was tuned by professor Ivica Stamać from Zagreb.

The Blackpool, UK High Tide Organ

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia…
The High Tide Organ is a tidal organ 15 metres (49 ft 3 in) tall constructed in 2002 as part of “The Great Promenade Show” series of sculptures situated along Blackpool’s New Promenade[1] in the UK. The artwork, described as a “musical manifestation of the sea”, is one of a few examples of a tidal organ; others include the San Francisco Wave Organ[2] and the Sea Organ in Croatia.
The sculpture was designed by the artists Liam Curtin[3] and John Gooding,[4] and was constructed in concrete, steel, zinc and copper sheet.[5] The harnessing of wave energy, and the sculpting of the concrete and metals, is said to produce a unique interpretation of Blackpool’s natural and man-made environments. The instrument is played by the sea at high tide through eight pipes attached to the sea wall. These are connected under the promenade to 18 organ pipes within the sculpture. The swell of seawater at high tide pushes air up the sea-wall pipes and causes the organ pipes to sound. The best time to hear the High Tide Organ is two to three hours before or after high tide. On very calm days the organ is silent for part of its cycle. The pitches of the pipes are based on the harmonic series in B flat.
Organ pipes contained in the sculpture are sounded by the swell of sea water at high tide.


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