Please stop saying “consuming music”

In the wake of David Bowie’s death, I went on iTunes and bought a couple of his tracks, including the majestic “Blackstar.” In economic terms, I “consumed” this song. I am a “music consumer.” I made an emotional connection to a dying man who has been a creative inspiration of mine for more than twenty years, via “consumption.” That does not feel like the right word, at all. When did we even start saying “music consumers”? Why did we start? It makes my skin crawl.

Barbara Kruger, "Untitled"

The Online Etymology Dictionary says that the verb “to consume” descends from Latin consumere, which means “to use up, eat, waste.” That last sense of the word speaks volumes about America, our values, and specifically, our pathological relationship with music.

Continue reading

A book you should read

I’m currently reading On Immunity by Eula Biss, which is so good you can’t believe it. Recommended if you’re interested in vaccination, health generally, being a parent, gender, race, class, the history of medicine, Greek mythology, vampires, or if you just need an example of how to parse out a difficult subject in a warm and elegant manner.

On Immunity

Also, if you have money and want to make a well targeted public health intervention, I recommend buying a bunch of copies and handing them out in front of the Park Slope Food Coop and the equivalent locations in Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Laurel Canyon, Portland, and wherever else well-educated professionals aren’t getting their kids vaccinated.

Carl Sagan explains why Pong is good for you

From from Sagan’s highly-recommended 1977 book The Dragons Of Eden:

There is a popular game, sometimes called Pong, which simulates on a television screen a perfectly elastic ball bouncing between two surfaces. Each player is given a dial that permits him to intercept the ball with a movable “racket”. Points are scored if the motion of the ball is not intercepted by the racket. The game is very interesting. There is a clear learning experience involved which depends exclusively on Newton’s second law for linear motion. As a result of Pong, the player can gain a deep intuitive understanding of the simplest Newtonian physics – a better understanding even than that provided by billiards, where the collisions are far from perfectly elastic and where the spinning of the pool balls interposes more complicated physics.

Continue reading

Nicest blog comment ever

Received via email from one Pierre Boyer:

Wow. I just stumbled upon your blog tonight, and I’ve been reading it for 4 hours straight now. I just can’t stop. I’ve been a rock enthusiast, guitar player and amateur composer for some years,but only as a hobby. Being more of a scientific mind, I’ve always tried to find patterns in the music I like, as much out of curiosity about *why* I liked this particular song and not this one, as because it gave me clues for my compositions. That lead me to moody all-nighters (probably like this one) reading countless scientific literature pdfs about psychoacoustics when I really should be sleeping. I’ve always made small experiments whenever I thought I found a pattern. Using GuitarPro (which, I now realize, is just a dumbed-down version of your ideal 3-in-1 tool of transcription,edition and recording) and tabs I found on the net. So just imagine how I felt reading the first few articles on your blog :D. I also happen to LOVE physics, mathematics, and anything that provides abstract and mathematically-beautiful models about the world we live in. I’m not very good at getting ideas from my mind on a paper in a structured or even remotely intelligible way however. And your blog…it’s just… It’s like everything I ever thought of or considered (and a LOT LOT more stuff that I never thought of and just blew my mind),but could never clearly state or manage to get my head around is just there, beautifully told, expertly written, using a nice wordpress theme. I can’t stress enough how much in awe I am right now. You definitely are one of the most clever and useful person I’ve ever met in my life (well, read, but you get the point) and will probably met. I’ll be reading your blog like mad for the next few hours, and probably a few days after that, and some more days again after that. And from the very little I had time to read, it’ll probably change my understanding of music, and my whole life in general, forever. I also agree with you about the western way of teaching music, which I took class of for 3 years before I just couldn’t stand this non-sensical and counter-intuitive way of notation and composition. Which also is,I guess, one of the thing that pushed me to look somewhere else for answers. I also read books about copyright (like that one by Lessig recommended on xkcd) and thermodynamics, and pretty much all the stuff that is featured on this blog. Well, as you can see by now, I didn’t lie about not being able to write anything structured :p. I just wanted to let you know how much of a miracle your blog is to me right now. I sincerely, whole-heartedly thank you for putting all that priceless knowledge for free on the internet.

Greetings from France !

Pierre. (Not a native speaker)