Posts tagged ‘music’

Madison Harp Orchestra

Last year, The Madison Harp Orchestra organized as a local branch, for players who couldn’t make the World Harp Orchestra. Last year I went down early to make sure the trip wasn’t longer than expected and wander about the Monona Terrance and Madison a bit. As for the event itself – it’s not often you get to see a dozen or two harps at once (outside, perhaps, the Great Lakes Harpers conference, which probably comprises many of the same people; and of course the WHO itself.)

I’m probably heading up to Madison again this year (March 15), (weather permitting) if anybody would be interested in joining me.

Music as Program

Something is bugging me. Playing music isn’t always fun. So like, what gives? I’m learning a new skill. Learning can be fun, and Raph Koster practically equates the two.

I recall when I was learning to program – typing in BASIC programs (usually games) from magazine listings and then tweaking them.

I realized what the difference is. In the programs, I could make some sense of them. It wasn’t too hard to pick out a statement that read a key, and figure out that x = X + 10 moved a character to the right. I could understand the program so i could change it.

I don’t understand music. It is utterly opaque to me. Since I don’t understand it, I have nothing to direct change; I can’t play around with it. I can’t engage in the process of creation, which I’ve picked out in the past as a key factor in my general mental health. (This entry might do me some good.)

I’ve read a few things. There is tonic, dominant, leading tones, etc. But I don’t see them. I’m sure experienced musicians can see things things. But I’m not experienced. Sheet music is as enlightening to me as (get this) binary machine code.

Yep yep yep. Music is a program, and musical notation amounts to reading a program in hex bytes. All well and good for the machine executing it – which is exactly what a musician is doing with a piece of sheet music. Since sheet music is made for people trying to ‘execute’ it, this works out well enough. It’s also clear as mud. The ability of experienced musicians to see the deeper structures in sheet music equates to ability of hardcore programmers to see the structure in a binary executable. Sure, it can be done, but it doesn’t strike me as especially effective.

Now to be fair, I did set out to learn how to play music, not compose it. I was hoping to pick up some understanding along the way, but my focus thus far has been on execution not understanding. Still, wheres my ‘C’? C++? Perhaps some Lisp, haskell, or ML and nice higher order programming? Something like BASIC wouldn’t be all bad to start out with. Even Assembly would be a step up at this point. I suspect that assembly, or putting mnemonic labels on the machine instructions, equates to identifying the roles (tonic, dominant) and intervals. You have a slightly better idea what is going on, but not really why.

There are still two problems. One, this amounts to disassembly – taking the raw machine code and reversing engineering the meaning. In programming this is always a lossy process* – even just going to assembly you lose labels, symbolic constants, comments, etc. Second, where are those higher level languages? We’re still at the register-transfer level here. Has my education, focusing on playing such as it has, merely been negligent, or is there really nothing out there?

*Edit – technically, it is assembly that is lossy. Disassembly loses no more information, and often adds to it by identifying slightly larger structures.

Actually, badly designed websites* were not the only thing encouraging me to get broadband. A few weeks ago I ran across It looked as thought it might be the kind of music service I had wanted – streaming (don’t have to buy CDs all the time), no commercials, and capable of making suggestions. I started recording CD playing history immediately, hoping to get some recommendations. So I was seriously considering broadband for the first time – it had always been too expensive for my limited use, and some kinds still are. It was only then that the slow web sites pushed me over the edge ;^)

So, I’ve finally played though all of my CD’s and have started using the radio for regular background music. The last few years I went through a long time of not listening to music very much. I suppose mixed results is what I should have expected. A lot of it is no doubt due to a limited selection – for instance, the global tag radio for anything with ‘harp’ has either one or no playable songs. I’ve had slightly more success with the celtic tag, (despite some decidedly mis-tagged tracks) which is a little better represented in popular music. I suppose it’s called popular for a reason, but it leaves us niche listeners out. I suppose I have my CD’s when I need them.

There have been a few discoveries. I heard one good piece from Hans Zimmer, so may keep an eye on him. I’m definitely going to check out the Mediaeval Baebes. (Boy, that sounds bad. Good music, but I might have liked a different name.) There were a few other interesting things, but I’m mainly treating them as outliers so far.

Meanwhile, I’m learning to lower my standards for using ‘love’ and ‘ban’. I might like a more finely graded scale, but I think that’s rating is based on quantity, (of plays) not quality.

I may also look into Pandora, which appears much better for exploring related music – but one thing at time. I’m also not too keen on the fact that they want a credit card up front, even though there is a free version.

Anyway, I’m on Is anybody else?

*(and yes, I’ve found several kinks in my recent site update that escaped me earlier while I was worrying about the flyout menus. The kinks will be fixed… um… eventually)


I’ve been on a downswing the last few days – I’ve been getting up a little later every day. Partway through Saturday’s martial arts seminar I really started to feel beat, and Sunday I woke up feeling tired and foggy-headed. I”m feeling somewhat better now; in the evening I was able to read for a few hours without my eyes shutting on me.

The harp tuning is going better. Using my fingernail on the high strings produces much better results on the tuner (I’ve also been in a different room, which may have different acoustic properties – I avoided it initially because of the computer fan.) The strings are also beginning to hold their tuning, so the process is going much faster. On the other hand, the recent cold snap demonstrated that my heater is a rather flat B, sometimes a sharp B-flat ;^)

Something I forgot to mention before – even on the first tuning, it became apparent that I would be developing callouses. Indeed, I’ll need to in order to play for any great length of time.

The Dance of Seven Years.

As much as I’d like to let the image speak for itself, such things are reluctant to transpire without event.

The main thing that was interesting was getting it home. Harps are not something you just have left on the doorstep, so I took delivery at work. Expanded as it was with layers of packing material, the box only barely and with a little coaxing fit into the rear hatch of my car, whereupon I had to scoot the seats forward a little, which made for a slightly awkward drive home.

Once I got home, (and after once again discovering the magic angle to get it back out of the back hatch) the next challenge was opening the box. It had ‘this end up’ but not ‘open here’, and tape on most edges. Working from the former direction, I started at the top, where after some dissection, I discovered the basic construction. Sort of like a nesting top and bottom, in the style used for many board games, only very asymmetrical and on it’s side. Beneath cardboard, were some foam inserts, followed by a plastic bag, and then the soft-shell case. You might think it was over at this point, but there was still the matter of getting the harp out of the case. It doesn’t open completely, like the hard guitar cases, only one edge unzips. With with overlapping folds and friction, lifting it out didn’t seem too practical, so I ended up standing the whole thing up and sort of walking it out.

Next up: tuning. (Thus begins the brave new world of music.) Harps are shipped slightly detuned to reduce the string tension, so the first time around takes awhile. Thankfully for my musically impoverished self, I got an electronic tuner along with it. It seems to have a little bit of trouble with the highest strings, but, just as likely, I don’t have sufficient precision with the tuning key yet.


A little dust to blow off there… ;^)

I’ve generally been doing well, but there hasn’t been much I felt like talking about. An overview.

I rode down to the waterfall today; It has been a long time (probably at least all winter) since I’ve been down there. Someone tore through with a chainsaw and seriously reduced the local forest. The first reaction of course was indignation; the place had a hidden quality, where you could kind of miss it, then walk over the bridge realize the waterfall is there. But I’ve also been reading Book 3 of The Nature of Order (which finally, after years on preorder, arrived a month or two ago.) So I had to stop and ask: Is the place better, or worse? To be fair I probably didn’t meditate on the place long enough, but it is possible that it has gotten better. The waterfall enhances the path, the path enhances the waterfall. The centers, formally separate, now can reinforce each other.

I’ve begun exploring USB peripherals, in consideration of my ailing computer. I have a new keyboard, USB flash drive for incremental backups, and and external CD writer for archiving the files I don’t touch much any more. With the data loss risk reduced, I’m much more comfortable using the computer until it dies. My BIOS locks up if something is plugged in on reset, but that is workable. Windows 98, despite the trouble I had with the haptic mouse, hooked everything up without a hitch. Linux has been rather a bit more trouble. ‘usbmgr’ had limited success; I had some success with the hotplug system, but the computer would lock up during shutdown, without unmounting the hard drive, so that got un=installed quickly. Plugging things in after BIOS but before the kernel seems to the best solution for now.

I repotted all my plants last week. The process of gathering all the pots, taking them downstairs, emptying and re-filling them, and then carrying the lot back upstairs made me realize just how many pots I have. Most of them are on one Pothos plant that I keep clipping and planting. Fed up with scrawny, leafless vines, I decided to try the bushy effect. I cut all the vines into sections of a couple of inches (filling two buckets) and stuck most of them into the fresh soil. I still have about half a bucket sitting in water, where they seem to be doing fairly well until I get more pots. It looks like on basil plant won’t make it (the don’t seem to like being replanted) The pineapples appear to want larger pots, and I stepped both of them up little.

I’ve been playing Banjo-Tooie (N64 game) lately. In a sense it is an evolution of the Mario 64 game play, with a lot of lock-and-key mechanics. One interesting thing is that most of the keys are alternate characters, each of which has various limitations. I seem to be settling into a pattern of playing an hour or two at night.

Perhaps that has something to do with the way I’ve been sleeping less. But with the onset of spring, and the reintroduction of soy milk into my diet, scientific conclusions are not forthcoming. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the extra hour every day. ;-)

For the moment most of that time is lost; I finally got talked into making a web site for my martial arts school. I’ve been playing around with some new CSS tricks. Mainly the use of margins to avoid floats, and menu bar highlights to show the current page.

Meanwhile, my savings account has built up, and I’m resolved to pursue getting a harp. There will still be some work figuring out details, and then there is finding a teacher somewhere.

Closet musical intelligence (and other mad theories)

Recently, I ran across the the list of different intelligence types (visual, interpersonal, etc.) From my priority setting exercise, I had also been thinking about “follow your bliss” This raises the question, “What do I spend the most time thinking about?” Well, most of the time I can’t think right because I’ve got some music on infinite repeat in my head. Could I have been repressing a musical intelligence all my life? You’d think it would have found expression somewhere, and I’m downright silent as a general rule.

Still, crazy theories like this encourage poorly supported revisionist history:

-Is it significant that during the happiest times of my life, I always had music playing?
-Is it significant that my period of greatest academic achievement was also when my parents started getting into country/western dancing, and consequently music?

Wizard’s Weave is back :-)

Wizard’s Weave is back :-) They are selling Rings Of Power again, and supposedly the second volume is being worked on again.

RoP is the first CD I ever bought. I was able to ignore most music without regret, but it just sucked me in. I did slowly start buying more from there, and then I slowly stopped, roughly after college. I think my desire for music must somehow relate to my social activity level.


(I’ve been putting off LJ for a while; this for instance is from nearly a week ago.)

I’ve never really been into music. (Unless you want to kibitz about never not having music stuck in my head.) I took one basic class in college just so I could follow some of the basic terms, but I didn’t even own music until about the same time.

(It’s kind of interesting, really. I didn’t buy any music until about two years into college. And I think about everything I’ve bought afterwards was in about the two years following my departure. I wonder if my interest in music has to do with general mood/social ability? Other point on that thread is that I had a huge music binge right about the last time I took after a girl; I had something playing continuously and got a new CD from the library every week. I even put the the radio antenna on my car (an exercise which largely confirmed my opinion that there isn’t much music I like on radio. ;^) ))

Anyway. Then I went to a ren fair several years ago and got enchanted by two different performers playing the large harps. (I found one other man less interesting, so I’m not a sucker for any harp, just ones that are played well ;^) ) The instrument has had some degree of fascination ever since, but I’ve been able to easy deflect any over-serious consideration of it with brief thought to the number of hobbies I already have which lie rotting for want of attention.

Regardless, for a least a little while a week ago, I had enough interest to searching the internet, to among other things, get a ballpark for what harps cost (a lot) and see if there were any instructor directories.

Mostly I worked off of Google’s Directory, and I didn’t even get very far through that in one evening. I browsed a couple of manufacturers, where I learned the difference between the folk harp, which is essentially what I was fascinated with, and the concert harp, which has a wider musical range, a heck of lot more complexity, an a price tag to match. First I found the American Harp Society, which looks frightfully officially, and then ISFHC (International Society of Folk Hapers and Craftsmen), which, at least by their web page, came off a little more friendly, has a chapter in my area, and runs HarpCon in Indiana, which could be an opportunity to pick up a lot of information.

Of course the best use of it would be to look at different kinds of harps if I decided to buy one. But the practical side of me says I should learn I little first so I know what to look for. (I did find one ‘cheapo’ harp if I did just want to try it out.)

But interest seems to have wavered a bit in the past week. Protospiel 2003 was also announced only a few days later, on exactly the same days as HarpCon :-(


It seems like I’ve hardly stopped moving since Saturday..


Party for local friend who passed the exam for night grad school. We had dinner at a slightly fancy mexican restaurant, and then went to see XXX. Which is thankfully not at all what it sounds like… :^) What it is, is a spy movie with extreme sports stunts. Kind of fun, but hardly high cinema. Got back after midnight though, so I was kind of tired for a few days.


Dawdled around in the morning, and then did errands in the afternoon. Wrapped them up on the way to the Saturday night gaming group.


Got up and started refreshing my directions to the Bristol Renaissance Faire. Got there over an hour after it opened, and was annoyed to find that there were still lines for the ticket booths. I guess it was their last day of the season… ;^) Did a fairly quick look around, mainly looking at he sword booths. They really don’t do the style that my martial arts uses, though. Listened to a group called Waking Maggie, and bought a CD. Overall pretty good stuff, although I don’t really care for their rendition of Rocky Road to Dublin. You see, it’s a rather fast song. The one I like has two singers – not only does this sound good, but it gives the people a chance to breathe. In the new one the poor woman is tripping over herself trying to spit all the words out fast enough. ;^)

Left somewhat early, for a faire, and went home. Took a shower, and headed off to the martial arts award banquet. I wasn’t getting anything this time around, but I knew several people who were.


Work. Martial arts class.

Work. LJ Meetup, Chicago. Saw one of two people I had hoped, sort of got introduced to a few others. Mostly failed the socialization thing. Random new person showed up on friend-of, who doesn’t ring any bells. Haven’t investigated yet. (See this post for explanation.)


Work. Martial arts class.


Probably have to skip the game club tonight to get ready for this weekend.


Leaving in morning to visit friends and got to Shakopee Ren Faire