04 July 2010

Musical Miscellany, 2010.07.04

A collection of recent items related to music:

A quote:
[As Al-Khayed and Ben-Ami ponder physically resurrecting the late musical duo Winter and Calder:]

Al-Khayed looked cynical. 'Doesn't surprise me at all. Fans will be split into rivalrous little cliques and clubs, and in any case, the last thing people who like old music want is for their heroes to turn up and make new music.'

(From: Ken MacLeod, Newton's Wake: A Space Opera)

Two articles from the Los Angeles Times marking the end of the L. A. Opera's complete staging of Wagner's "Ring," in a controversial staging by Achim Freyer. The production ran from 29 May to 26 June.

First, Mark Swed's retrospective review of the production, the tenor (sorry) of which is summed up in the subhead: "Achim Freyer's audacious vision for the four-opera cycle, met with boos and spotty tickets sales early on, is ultimately vindicated with a triumphant finale from L.A. Opera."

Swed writes:
The third and final cycle ended Saturday night with an almost full moon and an outright triumph for L.A. Opera. Throughout the third cycle the entire mood had changed on stage and in the audience. A festival atmosphere began to pervade the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and its plaza. Audiences came vividly dressed and clearly excited. The orchestra and singers rose to unexpected new levels. Everything seemed to work. Domingo, in the third "Walk├╝re," was terrific, sounding strong and scampering up the steep rake of the set for his curtain call like a kid.
And he further notes that Freyer's curtain call at the final performance was "greeted by deafening cheers."

Well, perhaps.

But even so, Mike Boehm's article in Friday's LA Times makes the production sound close to a financial disaster. Ticket sales were 73% of capacity, but many of these were cut-rate tickets that the opera began to market when initial sales were very low.  And the L.A. Opera is still in a very deep financial hole.

For those of you have forgotten or haven't been paying attention, Freyer's "Ring" was the one with the light sabres.

And unusual costumes...

Deric Bownds points toward a new article on enhanced brain processes in musicians. The open-access article is:
Karen Johanne Pallesen, et al. (2010), "Cognitive Control in Auditory Working Memory Is Enhanced in Musicians," PLoS One.
The conclusion expressed in the title isn't exactly a surprise. But I'll read the article and (if time permits) report back.

For some reason (now lost in the mists of yesterday's browsing), I ended up following a link yesterday to an "old" article at the BBC site, from 21 February 2010, "Singing 'rewires' damaged brain: Teaching stroke patients to sing "rewires" their brains, helping them recover their speech, say scientists." 

The report covers research led by Gottfried Schlaug at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. The key point is (according to the BBC report):
"If a person's 'speech centre' is damaged by a stroke, they can learn to use their 'singing centre' instead"
The technique is called "Melodic Intonation Therapy."  The research was presented at the meeting of the AAAS in San Diego. A quick search turns up several other blog reports on this research, for example this post from 80beats (at a time when I was not yet following that blog, which is probably why I missed the report on this research up to now).

Wendy Zukerman at New Scientist reports on research by Francesco Riganello showing that patients in a vegetative state exposed to various pieces of classical music show the same change in heart rate as do healthy subjects:
Francesco Riganello at the Santa Anna Institute in Crotone, Italy, and colleagues played four pieces of classical music to 16 healthy volunteers while measuring their heartbeats. The team then repeated the experiment with nine people who were in a vegetative state. In addition, they asked the healthy volunteers to describe the emotions they had felt while listening.
The pieces, each 3 minutes long and by different composers, were chosen because they have different tempos and rhythms – factors previously shown to elicit positive and negative emotions.

Riganello found that the music affected the heart rates of both groups in the same way. Pieces rated as"positive" by healthy volunteers, such as the minuet from Boccherini's string quintet in E, slowed heart rate, while "negative" pieces like Tchaikovsky's sixth symphony increased heart rate.
The article is:
F. Riganello, et al. (2010), "Heart rate variability: An index of brain processing in vegetative state? An artificial intelligence, data mining study," Clinical Neurophysiology.  The corrected proofs of the article (which is in press) are behind a paywall at ScienceDirect, and cost $31.50.
Odd that the report in New Scientist mentions nothing about the "data mining" angle.
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