Chopin as teacher

Our new lunchtime concert series in the National Museum Wales begins in February with an entertaining exploration of the music of Chopin, his friends and contemporaries.

Chopin-2-470x260Professor Kenneth Hamilton, internationally-renowned pianist and Head of the School of Music, will perform three concerts in the series (6 February13 February20 February). These concerts will feature works by Chopin and his contemporaries, including Liszt, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Schumann, alongside relaxed commentary on the pieces being performed.

Here, Professor Hamilton tells us about Chopin as teacher…

“Paris, 1842. No. 9 Place d’Orleans. Every week of the “season”, from around the beginning of October to the end of March, a steady stream of piano pupils would come to study with Fryderyk Chopin. It was a fashionably artistic area of the city – Charles-Valentin Alkan also lived there, and a host of lesser luminaries. Chopin was by then the most famous pianist permanently resident in Paris, and accordingly its most exclusive piano teacher. Even Liszt had not charged as much for a one-hour piano lesson: 20 gold francs. At around 4.5 zlotys, this was a phenomenal fee. A bank clerk might earn 250 zlotys a year; a gentleman could live very respectably on 2,500. As Chopin gave up to five lessons per day, piano teaching – and not the modest royalties from his music – quickly became his main source of income, just as Berlioz largely made his living as Librarian of the Conservatoire, and Wagner by sponging off friends.

“Piano pupils arriving at Chopin’s flat would be greeted by a valet, evidence in itself of unusual opulence; most musicians, then as now, had to open their own front doors. While waiting in an antechamber, the students would unobtrusively place the fee for their lesson, delicately concealed in an envelope, on the mantelpiece. On no account was cash to be handed over directly – Chopin found anything to do with money or sex equally distasteful, and avoided close engagement with either.

“Almost inevitably, most of Chopin’s pupils were wealthy young ladies with talents in inverse proportion to their social status. Wilhelm von Lenz, an occasional Russian pupil, noted that a steady stream of such students – “each one even prettier than the last” would emerge from the music room and parade haughtily past the next in line. Nevertheless, one or two of these “perfumed ladies in frilly dresses” might actually have pursued professional careers, had such a prospect not been entirely unthinkable. Camille O’Meara in particular was an extremely accomplished player with an instinctive feeling for her teacher’s style. Yet, as Liszt said many years later, Chopin was “unlucky with his students”. None achieved international fame as performers, though a few of them – such as Karol Mikuli, teacher of Moriz Rosenthal – fruitfully passed on to subsequent generations what they had learned in the Place d’Orleans. Chopin himself had especially high hopes for Carl Filtsch, an astonishingly talented prodigy only 13 years old who came to study with him at the end of 1842. “When this lad starts touring,” joked Liszt, “I’d better shut up shop.” But Filtsch was already ill. He died of consumption in 1845, a few years before Chopin’s own death from the same disease.

“Once students had spent the requisite time in Chopin’s antechamber, they would be ushered into the music room, which housed a Pleyel grand piano and an upright of the same manufacture. The pupil sat at the former, Chopin at the latter, from where he would demonstrate the correct execution of troublesome passages. Most of his teaching was by direct example – he far preferred to do rather than describe. According to Mikuli, some pupils would “play no more than a few bars during the entire lesson”. But listening attentively was unusually valuable, because what one mainly learned from lessons with Chopin was how to play Chopin. The composer would write ornaments or variants into pupils’ scores – some of them distinct improvements over the versions originally published – as well as fingerings and friendly admonitions. Playing from the score was a requirement, for in contrast to the prevailing opinion among pianists today, Chopin regarded memorisation as likely to prompt an overly mechanical performance. “I don’t want any of this,” he snapped, after discovering that a pupil intended to play a piece by heart. “Are you reciting a lesson?”

“Especially important to Chopin were the creation of a singing tone and a subtle blending of sonorities. He himself was known not for the speed and power of his playing (on the contrary, audiences in larger halls found his performances verging upon the inaudible) but for its exquisite elegance and refined rhetoric. “If you can’t sing, you can’t play the piano,” he would tell his pupils, while advising them to go to the opera and listen to Rubini, Pasta and other great singers of the day.

“Apart from his own music, Chopin was happy to recommend pieces by Hummel and Field, even occasionally Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 26 (the only one in his repertoire). He had, however, little time for “avant-garde” music, whether it was Schumann’s eccentric effusions (even Carnaval, which was dedicated to him) or Liszt’s virtuoso extravagancies. Most favoured of all was the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. In fact, Chopin prepared for his own concerts not by practising the pieces programmed, but by spending a fortnight playing the 48 Preludes and Fugues. “Play Bach for me,” he would say to his students as they left at the end of their lesson…”

The article originally appeared in the 8th issue of Chopin Express gazette published for the 16th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition by Adam Mickiewicz Institute and Gramophone.

RMA Research Students’ Conference 2015

Alicia Stark is a PhD student at the School of Music and is currently researching Authenticity, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Virtual Band.

Recently, the annual RMA Research Students’ Conference was held at the University of Bristol.  Spanning three days, this event is always one of my favourites.

rma-logo-170One of the main reasons is that all the presenters are research students, which means their papers are new and cutting edge, covering a wide array of topics.  But it also means that the audiences are primarily research students as well, who can ask insightful questions and (arguably more importantly) sympathise with the research experience. While they may not know a subject area inside and out, they understand the painstaking work and effort that goes into creating a presentation of this nature, and there is an air of support and camaraderie throughout the whole event.

Another reason why I love this student conference is the scope of the presentations.  There are papers on most musical styles, eras, and topics, from Soviet musicology to performance anxiety to Benevantan chant. It’s fascinating to walk into papers with little previous knowledge or context and to see how new researchers are engaging with established topics.  And this year, a large number of these presentations on far-reaching topics came from Cardiff University students.

We had a huge representation at this year’s conference, with six PhD students delivering papers (yes, that is a lot for one conference!)  I gave a paper on Noodle from Gorillaz, but my friends gave papers on composition, performance, Italian and Czech musicology, and more.  We covered a large portion of ‘modern’ musical history between us, and it was wonderful to showcase how Cardiff’s research community is thriving.

We seem to have a large number of research interests at Cardiff, but what I like more than simply bragging about my Uni is that the PhD students at Cardiff are starting to invest in each other’s work.  We attend each other’s papers at conferences, become part of the field work reading group (even if we don’t often do field work), engage in PGR Study Days, or hang out in the postgrad suite on Thursday mornings.  We’re starting to see more of each other, talk more often, share ideas online, and that makes us more confident to go out and share our work with people at conferences like the RMA.

It’s something we’ve been working toward for a long time, and will continue to work on:  building a research community that supports our own and leads in the academic world.  The RMA Research Students’ Conference was a reflection of the ways Cardiff is achieving those goals.

Find out more about Alicia’s research on the School website

Presenting postgraduate research: A tale of three conferences

Alessandra Palidda is a PhD student at the School of Music. She is currently researching music, society and politics in Milan during the period 1790-1802. Here she tells us about presenting papers at three recent international conferences.


The autumn term 2014-2015 for me was characterized by attendance at several conferences. It is always good to find occasions to share your research and ideas, and I think this year has been, so far, very good in terms of sharing and dissemination. Naturally, preparing for and attending these kind of events can be daunting and take quite a significant amount of time, but I think that they are always worth it.

Music and War from Napoleon to WWI

The first occasion I was able to participate in was an international conference organized by the Centro Studi Opera Omnia Luigi Boccherini (Lucca), the Palazzetto Bru Zane – Centre de musique romantique française (Venice) and the Observatoire interdisciplinaire de création et de recherche en musique (Montréal). The conference, taking into consideration the anniversary of WWI, but also offering a much broader focus, was entitled ‘Music and War from Napoleon to WWI’, took place in the wonderful Complesso monumentale di San Micheletto (a 15th-century former convent) and lasted three whole days (28-30 November).

Conference venue in Lucca

Conference venue in Lucca

The paper I gave was dedicated to Ambrogio Minoja, a composer who had been very active in producing occasional music for both the Napoleonic and the Hapsburg governors, thus making his life and activity quite an interesting case study. The conference was highly interdisciplinary and international: papers were given and questions were taken in three different language, English, French and Italian. Panels were dedicated to vastly different topics, from the use of bagpipes and brass bands within regiments to musical criticism during the war, from escape and/or involvement strategies chosen by different composers to the interaction between music and propaganda in different contexts.

I think my paper was well received: I had questions from different members of the audience and several debates and discussions originated from the panel and continued throughout the whole conference. The feeling of really sharing my ideas and feeding them into broader debates, being able to find points of contacts with scholars coming from different countries and contexts was truly an electrifying one, and I really hope that I will be able to keep in touch with many of the people I exchanged contacts with. The conference organizers are also preparing a publication including 25/30 papers presented… fingers crossed!

44th annual conference of the BSECS (British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies)

The beginning of 2015 saw my attendance at two other prestigious events, the first being the 44th annual conference of the BSECS (British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies) which took place from the 6th until the 8th of January in St. Hugh’s College, Oxford. The society kindly awarded me a PG bursary to help cover my expenses and invited me to the conference dinner on the evening of the 7th.

2 - BSECS logoThis conference was truly a huge event: apart from two keynote speakers, there were 8 sessions each comprising 12 or 13 parallel panels that constituted three papers each, with topics that were broadly situated within the long 18th-century. Within this kind of event, selection was naturally necessary, but still very difficult. Nevertheless, I managed to find several people with whom to discuss issues related to my research: the presence of several scholars and researchers involved in fields such as history of theatre, performance and spectacle in relation to different contexts surely helped a lot. Sadly, there was not much about music, but the discussions I engaged in helped me thinking about my research within a broader historical and cultural context.

Conference venue in Oxford

Conference venue in Oxford

Finally, I think my panel was very cleverly assembled. My paper, dedicated to the genesis and description of republican celebrations in Napoleonic Milan, was in fact paired with one about the policies on artistic spoliation in Napoleonic Venice and another one looking at the audiences’ behaviour in late-18th-century German theatres. I benefitted greatly from the discussion generated by the whole panel that continued throughout the whole event. The conference was also enriched by a concert of 18th- century instrumental and vocal music beautifully performed on period instruments such as recorders, harpsichords and oboes.

RMA Research Students’ Conference

I had to leave the BSECS conference straight after the concert and the dinner because on the following day (8 January), the third event I want to talk about began. This was the RMA annual research students’ conference. This year the conference took place at the University of Bristol’s Music department (Victoria Rooms).

4 - RMA bookletI was pleased to see many of my fellow researchers from Cardiff attending and presenting there, namely Alicia, August, Martin (or, better, Martins, two of them) and Simone. The atmosphere was quite relaxed and nice; my paper, dedicated, again, to Ambrogio Minoja, was maybe a little too specific, but did not fail to generate a nice discussion on broader issues such as propaganda, reception and the availability of primary sources.

In addition, despite the lack of a specific focus, it was very interesting to get a taste of what other researchers in music are doing in UK and beyond: there were, in fact, also researchers coming from other countries such as Czech Republic, Germany and Canada.

I really encourage everybody to attend to the next RMA research students’ conference: it is a very nice occasion to both share your research and see what others are doing, not mentioning the possibility of hearing wonderful keynote speakers (this year’s speaker was Dr Bettina Varwig, King’s College London) and getting more involved in the association’s many activities.

Find out more about Alessandra’s research on the School website or follow her on    

SMA Music Analysis Workshop

Event review by Martin Curda, PhD student at the School of Music and an SMA Student Representative. On the last Saturday in November 2014, the first SMA Music Analysis Workshop took place at Cardiff University’s School of Music. Besides the ‘TAGS’ conference, the biannual Summer School (coming up this July) and the ‘Writing Club’ workshops, the Music Analysis Workshop broadens the palette of events through which the SMA supports its student members and fosters interest in music analysis. sma-web The conception of this project was formed during a series of discussions between myself, the members of staff in Cardiff (particularly Drs Charles Wilson, David Beard and Keith Chapin), Dr Nicholas Reyland (Keele University), and the committee members of the SMA. What emerged from these talks was the format of an interactive workshop, in which the participants get not only a theoretical introduction into a particular methodological approach to analysing music but also a ‘hands on’ experience of its practical application.

Thus, the event reaches out to a broad audience. Those whose primary research interest lies outside music analysis are offered a comprehensive introduction into the discipline, while more experienced candidates are given the opportunity to explore methods they are not particularly familiar with.

The first workshop was conducted by Dr Charles Wilson (Cardiff University), who focused on post-tonal music theory. He started his session with an introduction re-negotiating the position of music analysis in the ‘aftermath’ of the wave of criticism from the New Musicology movement.

Challenging the common objection that music analysis is ‘divorced’ from the ‘actual’ experience of music, he illustrated through musical examples as diverse as Debussy, Webern and Berio the correlation between ‘perceptibles’ and ‘observables’, that is, between musical features or events which are perceived as significant in the process of listening (regardless of theoretical education or rational endeavour) and structurally significant features or events which can be observed analytically in the score. This was practically demonstrated in the interactive parts of the session, when participants were asked to make ‘intuitive’ comments on musical examples, which were subsequently linked to more rigorously analytical observations. The participants learned to identify different kinds of scales (pentatonic, diatonic, hexatonic, octatonic, etc.) using ‘clock diagrams’, to trace their alteration within a piece by Debussy, and to compare the contrasting uses of such modes in pieces by different composers.

Particularly in his analysis of a song by Webern, tracing the symbolism of Stefan George’s poetry in Webern’s treatment of hexatonic modality, Dr Wilson gave convincing examples of sensitive application of analytical methods, demonstrating that music analysis is one of many mutually interconnected ways of engaging hermeneutically with music. SMA-Boyd

These issues were also central to the second workshop, led by Dr Nicholas Reyland (Keele University) and focused on the functioning of music in audio-visual analysis of screen media. Dr Reyland drew attention to the ‘middle ground’ between sophisticated analytical reflection of music on the one hand and visceral response to musical stimuli on the other, in which music is perceived through familiar stylistic or topical conventions and, broadly speaking, enculturated knowledge.

The participants had chance to ‘audio-view’ the newest Star Wars trailer and get closer understanding of the role music plays in it. Another interactive exercise involved ‘blind listening’ and ‘deaf viewing’ of a particular scene from Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy Three Colors: Blue (music by Zbigniew Preisner). This technique of ‘masking’, in which the elimination of one element of perception draws attention to another, offered valuable insight into the ways in which music contributes to the production of meaning in multi-media contexts and generated lively discussion.

It became apparent that approaches and techniques employed by audio-visual analysis have profound implications for analysing music ‘on its own’. Indeed, the argument was convincingly made that music is never quite ‘on its own’.

Although the above described sessions constituted the main body of the event, many exciting things happened in between and afterwards. Several participants made use of the opportunity, kindly offered by Drs Wilson, Reyland and Beard, to discuss their research during thirty-minute individual meetings. Breaks for coffee and lunch (generously provided by the SMA) offered an opportunity to get to know colleagues from across the country. The event was formally concluded by a discussion session, attempting to wrap up the numerous topics and ideas let loose during the day.

Particularly prominent was the question of the boundaries of music analysis, which were revealed to be far from solid, allowing significant and stimulating overlaps with other sub-disciplines and methodologies of music studies. This vibrant debate continued among many of the participants over a pint in a nearby pub.

The event attracted more than twenty participants from eleven UK institutions, including not only students of musicology but also ethnomusicology, performance and composition. This can be considered a proof that the interest in analytical understanding of music is not an ‘ivory tower’ phenomenon endemic to a particular academic discipline but rather one that it is shared by people from all branches of music studies.

The enthusiastic and positive response of the participants suggest good reasons to hold high hopes that further similar events will follow this successful pilot scheme.

This review originally appeared in the SMA Newsletter.

In the Media: Pop, politics, and identity

Dr Sarah Hill joined presenter Bethan Rhys Roberts & Cian Ciaran (Super Furry Animals) in studio for The Wales Report to discuss pop, politics, and cultural identity last week.

They discussed politically-minded music, the rich history of political songs in Welsh, protest songs in the age of social media, and the future of political music.

The interview is still available on BBC iPlayer:


Instruments of War

Dr John Morgan O’Connell has recently been awarded a Cardiff University research fellowship to study music in the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Entitled ‘Instruments of War’, his proposal reflects a continued interest concerning the role of music in conflict and the place of music in conflict resolution. His 2010 edited collection Music and Conflict (co-edited with Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco) highlights the role of music in both inciting and resolving a spectrum of social and political conflicts in the contemporary world. 

This award is consistent with a wider interest in Cardiff University commemorating the Great War in Wales. Although principally intended to publish materials related to music in the Middle East Campaign (1914-1918), the proposal also envisages establishing a collaborative link between Cardiff University and the National Museum Wales where music is viewed as an integral part of the WW1 Initiative in both institutions.

Here, Dr O’Connell tells us a little bit more about the project and about music in the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.


A Representation of the Janissary Band

A Representation of the Janissary Band

Of course, the First World War was not the first world war for the Turks. During the Second Constitutional Period (1908-1922), the Ottoman Empire was already at war with its subject peoples in North Africa and Southeast Europe (amongst others). In this context, music played a critical role in galvanizing support amongst its citizens and for instilling terror amongst its opponents during an extended period of internecine strife. Old military ensembles (such as the Janissary Band) were resurrected and new military bands (such as brass bands) were initiated to instil patriotic sentiment and to foster popular support. Further, music was employed to celebrate victories and to commemorate defeats, victory parades and funeral processions often being set to the sound of military music.


A Brass Band in the Ottoman Navy

A Brass Band in the Ottoman Navy

Music was employed to recruit in a wide range of contexts, theatrical events and musical performances in particular being used to raise funds and to rally support. Musical institutions (such as conservatoires) were founded not only to educate musicians but also to train bandmasters in the musical art of warfare. Further, musical personalities played an important role by writing nationalistic compositions (such as anthems) and by performing jingoistic numbers (such as marches). Here, music on sound recordings and music with silent films played a major role in promoting the war effort. Above all, music operated as a medium for disseminating propaganda both as a means of curtailing intra-national dissent and as a way of consolidating inter-national assent. Interestingly, different politicians used distinctive musics to disseminate dissimilar ideologies


A Recording of Ottoman Marches

A Recording of Ottoman Marches

Indeed, music reflected the complex character of Ottoman society. On the one hand, modernists employed ‘western’ music (alafranga) to their advantage by staging soirées and balls. Here, their German allies obliged by training orchestral conductors in academies and by coaching music directors in theatres. On the other hand, traditionalists used ‘eastern’ music (alaturka) to advance an alternative viewpoint by performing Ottoman music in concerts and Ottoman theatre on stage. The situation was even more complex. Turkish nationalists used folk music and non-Turkish nationalists used popular music to advocate dissonant positions at a critical moment in Turkish history. Whether it concerned courtiers or commoners, secularists or spiritualists, distinctive factions contributed to the heterogeneous sound world of an empire in decay.


German-Trained Musicians at War

German-Trained Musicians at War

‘Instruments of War’ will focus on a number of major events as they relate to music during period. Structured around the concept of ‘instrument’, it will examine sequentially the making of instruments in war (such as in musical ensembles), the training of instrumentalists for war (such as in musical academies), the arrangement of instrumentals during the war (such as in musical compositions) and the concept of instrumentality after the war (such as in musical polemics). Drawing upon sources in English, French, German and Turkish, the research will follow the multiple actors who used music to celebrate and to commemorate the triumphs and the setbacks of the Middle East Campaign. It will also show how music helps explain the legacy of imperial diplomacy a century after the cessation of hostilities.

City Scale

For the last week or so I’ve been in the San Francisco Bay Area conducting a bit of final research for my book, San Francisco and the Long 60s. I’ve had a few loose ends to tie up at the library of the University of California, Berkeley, and some catching-up on recent developments at the Grateful Dead Archive of the University of California, Santa Cruz, before my 2015 publishing deadline. As I type this on my hotel balcony, I can look up and see a whale breaching in the Pacific. There are certainly worse places to spend a research leave.

One of the plans I had for this trip was to trace the path of a ‘happening’ that took place in March 1963 across the Russian Hill and North Beach areas of San Francisco: a piece called City Scale, by Ramon Sender (composer), Ken Dewey (playwright), and Anthony Martin (visual artist), in affiliation with the San Francisco Tape Music Center. So I gathered my indentured research assistants, bribed them with promises of pizza and chocolate, and headed over to the foggy hills of the city, armed with a ‘score’ of the work – basically a handwritten sketch outlining the main points in the six-hour event, with no absolute coordinates, street names, directions, tempo or timing.

The only sure piece of information I had was that the piece began at the location of the Tape Music Center, 1537 Jones Street, and that the audience was walked up a hill overlooking North Beach, where they could witness a choreographed ‘car ballet’ in the streets below. At the same time there was a trombonist stationed in a tunnel nearby, playing into the traffic. When the audience walked back to the Tape Music Center there was a woman in a dressing-gown, standing in the window of a nearby piano tuner’s shop, singing Debussy. Another part of the happening involved a ‘book-returning ceremony’ at City Lights Bookstore, followed by a light show projected against the blank wall of a Wells Fargo bank. There was more to it, but those were the main tangible events.

Put together, these clues summon any number of mental images: a crisp spring night, planned events set against the backdrop of an unsuspecting city, audience blending with citizenry, citizenry becoming performers in a city-wide performance piece. It must have been an incredible night. When I met Ramon Sender a few years ago I suggested that he run City Scale again; as much as he would like to, he said that health and safety restrictions would never allow that kind of thing to happen today. So now it’s just a semi-documented, un-mapped performance event that took place one night over 50 years ago. What could I possible glean from stumbling around San Francisco trying to re-trace it?

Well, first of all, it’s important for me to understand how much the city has changed over these last fifty years. So much of the backdrop for City Scale just doesn’t exist in the same way now. I already knew this, of course – I have many childhood memories of extensive building works around the Embarcadero in San Francisco, only one small piece in the evolving urban puzzle – so was prepared to spend part of the day second-guessing, back-tracking, and ignoring physical proof of radical change.

Jones Street

Jones Street

One such change is that the Tape Music Center left its Jones Street location shortly after City Scale for a much bigger space on Divisadero, very close to the burgeoning Haight-Ashbury community, where they remained until relocating to Mills College in Oakland in 1969. So although we began retracing City Scale at 1537 Jones Street, we did so by looking at a non-descript apartment building, no doubt full of people wondering what I was doing standing in the middle of the street taking pictures of their front door.  I can confirm that no residual music was discernible in the middle of the street, nor was any emanating from the windows.

2 piano tunerOn the corner of Jones and Pacific is a series of shops, any one of which might have been home to the piano tuner and the bathrobe-besuited soprano. My hunch was that it was the shop with the three windows, but my research assistants and I failed to reach a consensus on that. What was certain was that the liquor store sign across the street has probably been hanging there since at least 1963.


3 liquor store

We trudged up the hill to where we imagined the audience was taken to hear the tunnelled trombonist and to watch the car ballet. The most obvious marker here is Russian Hill, a stunning little piece of real estate with some of the more breathtaking views in a city full of breathtaking views.

4 big hill

5 not thereAlthough there were plenty of old mansions standing proudly where they’ve probably stood for a century, there were also some unfortunate reminders of the tendency, even in San Francisco, to build unlovely structures that then blight the landscape for decades. In at least one instance these structures block out the one bit of view that City Scale was designed to exploit.


Sometimes our view was blocked by foliage, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did give us an interesting investigative problem.

7 coit

One anecdotal memory of City Scale was the sight of Coit Tower lit by a full moon, with the car ballet taking place on the streets below it. A roughly contemporary 1960s view toward Coit Tower from Russian Hill suggests how effective this might have been. The vantage from last week was rather less clear, though the relatively light redevelopment of North Beach allowed me to zoom in on a couple of residential blocks that might have served as backdrop to the car ballet.


8 car ballet


Among the more surprising developments in the Russian Hill area since the 1963 performance of City Scale is the arrival of wild parrots in San Francisco. We encountered some of them as we walked down Russian Hill toward North Beach, and I wondered what they might have contributed to City Scale, had they (a) been there at the time, and (b) not been too shy to chatter to the audience.

9 parrot

Our descent into North Beach concluded with a trip to City Lights, where audience members in City Scale had been given books to ‘return’ to the front desk. 10 city lightsThat was a lovely bit of theatre, but it was also a powerful symbolic gesture: City Lights is a vital, living icon of the Beat generation, which was decidedly on the wane in 1963. What City Scale represented was a motion toward progressive artistic production, and certainly the interactions between key players in the Tape Music Center and agents in the nascent counterculture from that point onward affected the ‘next wave’ of artistic production in the city, which is the focus of my book. So we paid due respect to North Beach history by browsing the shelves at City Lights, taking a picture of Jack Kerouac Alley and going on our way.

11 kerouac alley

My task now is to make sense of all of this, keeping Mike Pearson and Michael Shanks’ crucial Theatre/Archaeology (Routledge, 2001) close at hand. This extended excavation was merely intended to feed into a very brief section of my book, but sometimes the longest tangents provide the most interesting insights.

In the Media: Urban Birds

Image by Flickr user sussexbirder - shared under creative commons licence

Image by Flickr user sussexbirder – shared under creative commons licence

Staged by the PRS for Music Foundation to coincide with this year’s Commonwealth Games, the first ever New Music Biennial showcases new commissions from a wide range of composers across the UK in two special events held in London and Glasgow.

BBC Radio 3′s Hear and Now programme broadcast music from the showcase, including Urban Birds, a piece for piano and percussion by Dr Arlene Sierra.

Arlene Sierra: Urban Birds
Xenia Pestova, Kathleen Supove and Sarah Nicolls (pianos)
Jose Miguel Fernandez (electronics)

The programme is available on BBC iPlayer at: 

The God Article: Test Results

Dr John Morgan O’Connell

This REACT-funded project involves the development of ney replicas with breath sensors to facilitate online learning. 

Tests: The God Article team met twice to test a digitally fabricated ney. They met first on 15 May and second on 29 May at two locations in the School of Music (Cardiff University). On a separate occasion, the team discussed the results of the first test in anticipation of the second test. Using a 3D Printer, an exact replica of a kız neyi was manufactured, the replica being fitted with sensors to measure touch (placed over the finger holes) and breath (placed beside the mouthpiece or başpare). The instrument was attached with cables to a computer where a number of parameters were displayed.

Kalia Baklitzanaki

Kalia Baklitzanaki

These were also projected onto a screen to facilitate analysis and feedback. The test on the instrument was conducted by the neyzen Kalia Baklitzanaki, an ethnomusicology graduate of SOAS who performed on the fabricated instrument and who reflected upon its qualities. Both tests were documented using audio-visual equipment. Sound recordings of each test were also made.

Breathing: The breath is central to the ney, both spiritually and musically. In terms of its mystical significance, the breath of God (nefes) passes through the body of man (the ney) to produce music. In terms of performance practice, the breath simultaneously results in tone and noise, the ‘breathy’ quality being a key aesthetic in ney performance. To measure this quality, the breath censor was used in two ways. First, it helped to assess a correct tone and an incorrect tone. This is especially useful for beginners. To represent this, the design team (consisting of Ant Mace and Stefan Goodchild) designed a pulsating sphere which represented tone (in terms of colour depth) and breath (in terms of radial consistency). Second, it helped to determine the ‘breathy’ quality of the tone. This is especially significant for performers. To represent this, the design team developed a breath line, where a smooth line represented breath focus and a jagged line indicated breath dissipation.


Representing Breathing

Representing Breathing

Fingering: Fingering is central to ney performance. To each of the 7 holes, copper pads were attached by the scientific team (consisting of Alex Kontogeorgakopoulos and Aris Bezas). The touch sensitive sensors were displayed on a virtual interface, where green indicated a hole covered and black indicated a hole uncovered. A darker green indicated a hole that was partly covered.

Representing Fingering

Representing Fingering

While the technology is ideally suited to measure performance practice (such as tuning and ornamentation), the sensors at present suffer from a number of flaws. The copper absorbed the finger moisture and the static electricity of the performer, thereby distorting the visual feedback. While the representation of trills was remarkably clear, the representation of other ornamental gestures was less satisfactory. This was especially problematic when documenting finger slides. That being said, the technology has considerable scientific potential. It could be used accurately to map performance gesture. It could also be employed to assist transcription. To this end, an indicator of time and pitch will be added to the design.


Variables: Other factors are also important in ney performance. Timbre is especially important since overtones above a fundamental represent in some traditions distinctive levels of mystical gnosis. Accordingly, a spectrogram was included not only to measure pitch but also to represent harmonics. While this was especially useful in indicating the instrument’s acoustical principles and timbral characteristics, the representation of pitch needs to be better calibrated, at present showing limited variation in the relevant image. Amplitude is also an important variable. Two indicators were developed. First, the pulsating sphere integrates breath expended and amplitude attained. Second, a separate graph represents amplitude in performance. This is especially important when measuring musical nuances in certain modes or makamlar. Embouchure is another important variable. However, in these tests, the configuration and the placement of lips was not measured.

Representing Embouchure

Representing Embouchure

Experiments: In both tests, a systematic series of experiments were conducted. First using the breath sensor, the breath was measured with reference to the pulsating sphere. Tone and breath were represented adequately. However, an additional variable representing pitch detracted from the visual display. This will be altered. Second using the touch sensor, each hole was tested sequentially with reference to the notes of a standard makam (in this instance makam Rast). Although the first three holes showed excellent results, the representation of the other holes was less consistent. When performing in another makam where half-holes are employed (in this instance makam Hicaz), the results were mixed. In both makamlar, Kalia performed a short improvisation or taksim for the record. In the first test, the display of results was distorted by incompatible programming. In the second test, this problem was rectified. However, a number of technical issues arose, sometimes disrupting the flow of the experiments.

Representing Feedback

Representing Feedback

Neyzen: The two tests represent a considerable achievement given the difficulties with respect to build, design and technology. Kalia’s feedback was especially important, commenting on the performance potential and the didactic utility of the fabricated ney. Significantly, she confirmed that the instrument had the musical (she used the word ‘synthetic’) character of a ‘practice’ ney. She noted that the instrument played well in the lowest range but not so well in the upper register. There is a morphological reason for this disparity. She also commented critically on the utility of certain parameters, viewing the pulsating spheres of use to beginners and the breath indicators of use to performers. She also noted that the playing position was somewhat unorthodox. This was especially noticeable with respect to lip placement. Concerning fingering, she made an important recommendation. The current representation of 7 holes should be redesigned to reflect traditional practice; fingering to be displayed as follows: 1+3+3.

Future: The God Article team agreed that the experiments had been successful from a scientific and an academic perspective. In a short time, the latest haptic sensors and electrical technologies have been employed to understand a musical artefact. Apart from the potential for publication, the test demonstrated that The God Article had a number of potential uses. First, students could learn to play The God Article in a virtual context. Second, performers could use The God Article to analyse stylistic nuance and ergonomic method. Third, academics could employ The God Article to study acoustical principles and to measure performance practices. Fourth, scientists could look to The God Article to examine the utility of breath and touch sensors in musical practice, amongst others. Fifth, artists could take from The God Article material for composition, especially in the area of electroacoustic composition. Clearly, The God Article has a number of other uses in the music business and beyond.

This project has been funded as part of REACT’s Objects Sandbox scheme

San Francisco and the Long 60s

Dr Sarah Hill

When one embarks on a research program, one can never know how long it will take to finish. If one is lucky, a doctorate will take about three years. If one is very lucky, one will get to live with a project for much, much longer than that.

Many years ago, Dr Charles Wilson asked me to participate in a panel session on the historiography of popular music for the 39th annual conference of the RMA, held at Cardiff University in September 2003. Dr Ken Gloag was planning a paper on 1950s nostalgia; Professor David Clarke would be speaking on Elvis and Darmstadt; and I, having recently completed my doctorate on Welsh-language popular music and cultural identity, thought I should take a breather and do something different, so I decided to present a paper on the memory of the 1960s in the San Francisco Bay Area.




I had a fairly clear idea what I wanted to cover in my conference paper, and it mainly had to do with the Grateful Dead. As a native of the Bay Area I was pretty familiar with the legacy of the Dead, and knew a little bit about the history of the 60s. Growing up in Oakland, the place my friends and I would always go to hang out was Berkeley – it had the best record stores, the best coffee shops, the best slices of pizza, and there was always a lot of local color on Telegraph Avenue to absorb as we sat outside Yogurt Park. Every year, for some stretch of days or weeks (or what felt like months), the Grateful Dead would be in residence at one of the local concert halls – the Oakland Auditorium, the Greek Theater, the Coliseum, the Arena – and for however long they were back in town, Berkeley would be positively crawling with hippies. Nothing but tie-dyed t-shirts as far as the eye could see, people selling beads and bedspreads and hippie tchotchkes to pay for their passage to the next stop on the tour, lost-looking stoned persons trying to score tickets. For those of us not attuned to the musical allure of the Grateful Dead, the annual Deadhead invasion was an annoyance, and more than a little bewildering.

So I thought it would be interesting to look into the connection between the Grateful Dead and what I figured was some kind of hippie imprint on the Bay Area. That conference paper was never meant to be anything other than a conference paper, either: it was a little academic sorbet to be enjoyed between courses, between converting my doctoral thesis into a book and whatever The Next Big Thing was going to be. Plus, it would be fun to revisit my youth. So I read some books, listened to some music, and started formulating my ideas.


ha corner


During this period, in July 2003, I was back home in the Bay Area, and went to see my friend Vicki at her saddlery shop in Point Reyes Station, just north of San Francisco. She was asking what I was working on – figuring it would be an extension of the Welsh pop thing – and I told her I was writing a conference paper on the Grateful Dead. I guarantee you, this is our exact conversation:

Vicki: ‘Oh, wow. You know, one of the Dead was just in the shop a couple of weeks ago.’

Me: ‘Really? Who?’

‘Phil Lesh. He just came by for a hug.’

‘You know Phil Lesh?’

‘Yeah. I knew all those guys.’

‘Say what?’

‘When I was in high school and used to run away from home, I always ran away to the Dead house.’

For all the years I had known Vicki, I had never put her into any kind of social or historical context. I knew she had grown up in San Francisco, and I knew she was older than I, but I never knew that she had hung around the Haight-Ashbury as a teenager in the 1960s, right at the epicentre of the hippie explosion. She told me to let her know if I ever wanted to talk to some of the people she knew back then, and she would introduce us. So then I started feeling that maybe what I was doing wasn’t really just a conference paper. Sure enough, one thing led to another, and in 2005 I was awarded an AHRC small grant to run a little pilot study in the Bay Area: a bit of archival work, some interviews, enough to build a radio documentary at the end of it. And right there was Vicki with her address book.

It should be noted here that everyday life was also happening: I delivered that conference paper in the week between my wedding and my honeymoon; I was awarded the AHRC small grant during my maternity leave from the University of Southampton; the Radio 2 documentary was broadcast just after I joined the School of Music at Cardiff; my second, much larger, AHRC grant was awarded just after my second maternity leave. All the time I was amassing material – interviews, recordings, films, newspaper and magazine clippings, chasing tangents, doing the cultural tourist thing – and all the time I was doing what academics do – teaching, writing, publishing, going to conferences, and having a life.


Yet there comes a time in every project, no matter how exciting, how complicated, how vital to the furtherance of Western civilization as we know it, when words simply must be put on paper. Earlier this year I was contracted by Bloomsbury to finish writing this hippie book, now called San Francisco and the Long 60s. I have about a year to condense everything into a readable narrative – academic yet engaging, historically accurate yet also preserving the idiosyncratic hippie adherence to specifics of time and place. With the aid of a Cardiff University Research Leave Fellowship I will be spending the next academic year revisiting all of my research and writing the monograph. And there is such enormous pleasure involved: reviewing all those interviews, hearing the voices of interviewees who have passed away, looking over photographs from my field work, listening to some familiar music with critical ears. Some highlights from my long period of research will be lost in translation – I won’t be able to capture on paper the cadence of some hippies’ speech, I can’t usefully describe the pervading aroma of an outdoor celebration in Golden Gate Park – but I can try to be true to the spirit of the project and be honest in recounting the experiences of the people who were generous enough to share their memories with me. I look forward to the next year of writing, and suppose I really ought to thank Dr Wilson formally for setting me off on this long, strange trip all those years ago.