RE: Games And Music
On Sep 12, 2004, at 7:07 PM, hans samuelson wrote:
>>> it might be just as interesting to make control as difficult as
>> "interesting" possibly. Especially to a sadist. Otherwise a stupid
> Not much for nuance, are we? Joel is a rather nice man, and not
> stupid at all.
No insult intended, I didn't say a word about the gentleman. Just about
that particular proposal.
> I am not by any stretch of the imagination denying that certain things
> are best done with optimal efficiency. But music just ain't one of
If that is so, why do we pianists and organists work so hard to find
the optimal fingerings to require the least hand movement? As a music
teacher, a long-time professional musician, and Ph.D-level music
student and professor who taught music, I think that within the
constraints of the art we are always trying to make music with as good
efficiency as we can muster.
> ; after all, wouldn't it be more efficient to be working than to be
> wasting one's time with the muses?
I often wonder why I waste time making music. It's dumb of me. But I am
an imperfect human who likes music, even though it seems worthless. But
it does seem to make people happy, it makes me happy. And that's the
ultimate goal of my interface design work, to make people happy. So
perhaps it makes sense.
> And how about those protein pellets for dinner?
> Although various attempts to redesign the piano keyboard over the
> years to make it more efficient were rejected.
For the same reason the Dvorak typewriter keyboard was rejected: too
much learning already invested. Even I'm not enough of a Don Quixote to
try to change the basic QWERTY keyboard. Or the piano keyboard. I don't
bang my head on brick walls.
> And some purist flute players prefer medieval flutes (without keys)
> for the sound and/or the physical challenge.
You probably mean renaissance flutes. Crossblown flutes without keys --
or with one key for the lowest note -- were used from the renaissance
through the 18th century and to a limited extent on into the 19th.
Fipple flutes are much earlier.
Interesting that you chose this particular example. By coincidence, I
am one of the "purist flute players" you speak of. I play renaissance
fipple flutes without keys every day, an ensemble thereof meets at my
house every week. Nobody does it for the physical challenge, we do it
because we like the sound. And, except for the contra bass which is
large, none are more challenging physically than the modern
> And some feel obliged to experiment with microtunings or invent their
> own Harry Partch-like instruments to create a unique sound that best
> expresses some aspect of the human consition.
Amazing coincidence No. 2: I played with Harry Partch (I can be seen
playing his "Spoils of War" on the PBS special on his music and
instruments.) Music for his microtonal instruments, such as the
chromelodeon, were written with conventional notation so that players
would have to make as little adjustment as possible to operate them. He
had a sound ideal but worked to make it as playable as he could.
> And some cultures do not feature any concept of transposition as we
> know it in the Western well-tempered tradition, and have not
> 'progressed' along any path toward making music easier mentally or
You and I must be on the same wavelength because we have here yet
another coincidence. I studied classical Indian (Carnatic) music, and
have played with an Indonesian gamelan. I don't see what point you are
making in terms of interface questions. In Indian music each raga is
chosen as a subset of the 22 sruti that the octave is divided into.
However, the starting point of the raga can be moved up and down in the
sruti to accommodate the lead singer or instrumentalist, just as when
playing Western music I transpose a song up or down the chromatic scale
for the same reason (and by the same method).
> And we still can't get anything better than that damned Stradivarius
> varnish. So maybe there are some absolutes after all.
Nothing to do with interfaces here; and there are modern instruments
that sound as good as the old ones, but they don't have the same
cachet, so unless you are in the business, you don't hear much about
them. I know one famous cellist who switched to a modern instrument
(that sounded a little better and cost a lot less, she made out like a
bandit on the deal) but she was careful not to tell the world. And, as
far as I know, nobody has noticed or asked. One of the best sounding
and handling violin bows is a contraption made out of aluminum and
carbon fiber, but no musician would dare perform with it because it
doesn't "look right".
There are lots of poor interface designs in music and its notation.
When they are improved, musicians make fewer errors, learn pieces
faster, and can sight-read more easily. The special music-paper I
designed makes writing (standard Western) music by hand somewhat faster
and a lot easier to write so that it is easy to read. Musicians love
My best sounding alto recorder is quite odd-looking. It is partly made
of metal and only partly of wood, and it has two keys (normally there
are none). When people hear it without seeing it, they love it. As a
performer, it is a delight to have strong low notes that will not
crack, and yet to be able to go to the top of the register without fear
of the note not sounding or fluffiness in the tone. It is definitely a
better interface, much easier to play than my traditional instruments
and entirely suited to baroque and modern music. However, it does not
blend with the renaissance instruments, so I use it where it sounds
well. Why was that instrument developed? To reduce the demands on the
> Moreover, there has also been rather a lot of work done to make music
> as hard, and as challenging, as possible to play, though I will grant
> you that some of the modern composers are sadists. Just ask the
> audiences... if you can find them...
As a performer, it sometimes seems as if some 20th and 21st century
composers have intentions more sadistic than musical. Many pianists
consider Ravel's "Ondine" the hardest piece ever written (it's way
beyond me), yet most people enjoy listening to it. Occasionally, when
you work through the difficulties, the results are rewarding. But there
are pieces I've learned that are best forgotten, and pieces I've heard
that, to me, were not worth hearing. But this is off-topic.
> By the way, have you thought about campaigning to finally get the US
> onto the metric system? That would be a good trick, and one that
> would measurably increase efficiency (cognitive and other) in a hurry.
> And I won't even be tempted to find any counter-examples... but keep
> your excessively efficient hands off my music!
I have written editorials in favor of going metric that have been
published in various newspapers. It is absurd that we have not done so.
Anyway, this was fun. And it was uncanny the way you chose examples
that I was particularly familiar with. Sometime we'll have to discuss
conducting: that is an incredible interface. I was conductor of the San
Francisco Chamber Opera. Before I studied conducting, I had no idea (1)
how hard it is and (2) how much of a difference a conductor makes. Some