Friday, December 9, 2011

Albert Barnes on Isaiah 5:12

(Isaiah 5:12 KJV) And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the LORD, neither consider the operation of his hands.
(Isaiah 5:12 RSV) They have lyre and harp, timbrel and flute and wine at their feasts; but they do not regard the deeds of the LORD, or see the work of his hands.

Commentator Albert Barnes had extensive notes on this verse and the instruments mentioned therein. His commentary is available for the free program e-Sword and thanks to that I'm able to quote his comments in their entirety. Other commentators have their own remarks but I thought that these would make for a good beginning.

Isa 5:12 
The prophet proceeds to state still further the extent of their crimes. This verse contains an account of their dissipated habits, and their consequent forgetfulness of God. That they commonly had musical instruments in their feasts, is evident from many passages of the Old Testament; see Amo_6:5-6. Their feasts, also, were attended with songs; Isa_24:8-9.
The harp -  - כנור  kinnôr. This is a well-known stringed instrument, employed commonly in sacred music. It is often mentioned as having been used to express the pious feelings of David; Psa_32:2; Psa_43:4; Psa_49:5. It is early mentioned as having been invented by Jubal; Gen_4:21. It is supposed usually to have had ten strings (Josephus, “Ant.” B. x. ch. xii. Section 3). It was played by the hand; 1Sa_16:23; 1Sa_18:9. The “root” of the word כנור  kinnôr, is unknown. The word “kinnor” is used in all the languages cognate to the Hebrew, and is recognized even in the Persian. It is probable that the instrument here referred to was common in all the oriental nations, as it seems to have been known before the Flood, and of course the knowledge of it would be extended far. It is an oriental name and instrument, and from this word the Greeks derived their word κινύρα  kinura. The Septuagint renders it κιθάρα  kithara and κινύρα  kinura.
Once they substitute for it ὄργανον organon, Psa_136:2; and five times ψαλτήριον  psaltērion, Gen_4:20; Psa_48:4; Psa_80:2; Psa_149:3; Eze_26:13. The harp - כנור  kinnôr - is not only mentioned as having been invented by Jubal, but it is also mentioned by Laban in the description which be gives of various solemnities, in regard to which he assures the fleeing Jacob that it had been his wish to accompany him with all the testimonials of joy - ‘with music - תף  tôph and כנור  kinnôr;’ Gen_31:27. In the first age it was consecrated to joy and exultation. Hence, it is referred to as the instrument employed by David to drive away the melancholy of Saul 1Sa_16:16-22, and is the instrument usually employed to celebrate the praises of God; Psa_33:1-2; Psa_43:4; Psa_49:5; Psa_71:22-23. But the harp was not only used on sacred occasions. Isaiah also mentions it as carried about by courtezans Isa_23:16, and also refers to it as used on occasions of gathering in the vintage, and of increasing the joy of the festival occasion.
So also it was used in military triumphs. Under the reign of Jehoshaphat, after a victory which had been gained over the Moabites, they returned in triumph to Jerusalem, accompanied with playing on the כנור  kinnôr;” 2Ch_20:27-28. The harp was generally used on occasions of joy. Only in one place, in Isaiah Isa_16:11, is it referred to as having been employed in times of mourning. There is no ancient figure of the כנור  kinnôr that can be relied on as genuine. We can only say that it was an instrument made of sounding wood, and furnished with strings. Josephus says that it was furnished with ten strings, and was played with the plectrum (“Ant.” B. viii. ch. x.) Suidas, in his explanation of it, makes express mention of strings or sinews (p. 318); and Pollux speaks of goats’ claws as being used for the plectrum. David made it out of the ברושׁ  berôsh, or fir, and Solomon out of the almug. Pfeiffer supposes, that the strings were drawn over the belly of a hollow piece of wood, and that it had some resemblance to our violin. But it is more probable that the common representation of the harp as nearly in the form of a triangle, with one side or the front part missing, is the correct one. For a full discussion of the subject, see Pfeiffer on the Music of the ancient Hebrews, “Bib. Repos.” vol. vi. pp. 366-373. Montfaucon has furnished a drawing of what was supposed to be the ancient כנור  kinnôr, which is represented in the book. But, after all, the usual form is not quite certain.
Bruce found a sculpture of a harp resembling that usually put into the hands of David, or nearly in the form of a triangle, and under circumstances which led him to suppose that it was as old as the times of Sesostris.
And the viol - נבל  nebel. From this word is derived the Greek word νάβλα  nabla, and the Latin nablium and nabla. But it is not very easy to form a correct idea of this instrument. The derivation would lead us to suppose that it was something in the shape of a “bottle,” and it is probable that it had a form in the shape of a leather bottle, such as is used in the East, or at least a vessel in which wine was preserved; 1Sa_10:3; 1Sa_25:18; 2Sa_16:1. It was at first made of the ברושׁ  berôsh or fir; afterward it was made of the almug tree, and occasionally it seems to have been made of metal; 2Sa_6:5; 1Ch_13:8. The external parts of the instrument were of wood, over which strings were drawn in various ways. Josephus says it had twelve strings (“Ant.” B. viii. ch. x.) He says also that it was played with the fingers. - “Ibid.” Hesychius and Pollux reckon it among stringed instruments. The resonance had its origin in the vessel or the bottom part of the instrument, upon which the strings were drawn. According to Ovid, this instrument was played on with both hands:
Quaravis mutus erat, voci favisse putatur
Piscis, Aroniae fabula nora lyrae.
Disce etiam duplice genialia palma
De Arte Amandi, lib. iii. 327.
According to Jerome, Isodorus, and Cassiodorus, it had the form of an inverted Greek Delta δ  d. Pfeiffer supposes that this instrument was probably the same as is found represented on ancient monument. The belly of the instrument is a wooden bowl, having a small hole in the under part, and is covered over with a stretched skin, which is higher in the middle than at the sides. Two posts, which are fastened together at the top by a cross piece, pass obliquely through this skin. Five strings pass over this skin, having a bridge for their support on the cross piece. The instrument has no pins or screws, but every string is fastened by means of some linen wound with it around this cross piece. The description of this instrument is furnished by Niebuhr (“Thess.” i. p. 179). It is played on in two ways, either by being struck with the finger, or by a piece of leather, or perhaps a quill hung at its side and drawn across the strings. It cannot with certainty be determined when this instrument was invented, or when it came into use among the Hebrews. It is first mentioned in the time of Saul 1Sa_10:5, and from this time onward it is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. It was used particularly in the public worship of God; 2Sa_6:5; 1Ki_10:12; 2Ch_20:28; 2Ch_29:25; 1Ch_15:16; 1Ch_16:5. It was usually accompanied with other instruments, and was also used in festivals and entertainments; see “Bib. Repos.” vol. vi. pp. 357-365. The usual form of representing it is shown in the preceding cut, and is the form in which the lyre appears on ancient monuments, in connection with the statues of Apollo.
The drawing in the book is a representation of a lyre from a Jewish shekel of the time of Simon Maccabeus, and may have been, not improbably, a form in frequent use among the Jews.
Niebuhr has furnished us with an instrument from the East, which is supposed to bare a very near resemblance to that which is referred to by Isaiah. This instrument is represented by the picture in the book.
The tabret - תף  tôph. This was one of the instruments which were struck with the hands. It was the kettle-drum of the ancients, and it is more easy to determine its form and use than it is of most of the instruments used by the Hebrews. The Septuagint and other Greek translators render it by τύμπανον  tumpanon. This word, as well as the Latin tympanum, is manifestly derived from the Hebrew. The Arabic word “duf” applied to the same instrument is also derived from the same Hebrew word. It was an instrument of wood, hollowed out, and covered over with leather and struck with the hands - a species of drum, This form of the drum is used by the Spaniards, and they have preserved it ever since the time of the Moors. It was early used. Laban wished to accompany Jacob with its sound; Gen_31:27. Miriam, the sister of Moses, and the females with her, accompanied the song of victory with this instrument; Exo_15:20.
Job was acquainted with it Job_17:6; Job_21:12, and David employed it in the festivities of religion; 2Sa_6:5. The occasions on which it is mentioned as being used are joyful occasions, and for the most part those who play on it are females, and on this account they are called ‘drum-beating women’ Psa_68:26 - in our translation, ‘damsels playing with timbrels,’ In our translation it is rendered “tabret,” Isa_5:12; 1Sa_10:5; Gen_31:26; Isa_24:8; Isa_30:32; 1Sa_18:6; Eze_38:13; Jer_31:4; Job_17:6; “tabering,” Nah_2:7; and “timbrel,” Psa_81:2; Exo_15:20; Job_21:12; Psa_149:3; Psa_150:4; Jdg_11:34; Psa_68:25. It is no where mentioned as employed in war or warlike transactions. It was sometimes made by merely stretching leather over a wooden hoop, and thus answered to the instrument known among us as the tambourine. It was in the form of a sieve, and is often found on ancient monuments, and particularly in the hands of Cybele. In the East, there is now no instrument more common than this.
Niebuhr (Thes i. p. 181) has given the following description of it: ‘It is a broad hoop covered on one side with a stretched skin. In the rim there are usually thin round pullies or wheels of metal which make some noise, when this drum, held on high with one hand, is struck with the fingers of the other hand. No musical instrument perhaps is so much employed in Turkey as this. When the females in their harems dance or sing, the time is always beat on this instrument. It is called doff.’ See “Bib. Repos.” vol. vi. pp. 398-402. it is commonly supposed that from the word “toph, Tophet” is derived - a name given to the valley of Jehoshaphat near Jerusalem, because this instrument was used there to drown the cries of children when sacrificed to Moloch.
And pipe. - חליל  châlı̂yl. This word is derived either from חלל  châlal, “to bore through,” and thence conveys the idea of a flute bored through, and furnished with holes (“Gesenius”); or from חלל  châlal, “to leap” or “to dance;” and thence it conveys the idea of an instrument that was played on at the dance. - “Pfeiffer.”
The Greek translators have always rendered it by αὐλός  aulos. There are, in all, but four places where it occurs in the Old Testament; 1Ki_1:40; Isa_5:12; Isa_30:29; Jer_48:36; and it is uniformly rendered “pipe or pipes,” by our translators. The origin of the pipe is unknown. It was possessed by most ancient nations, though it differed much in form. It was made sometimes of wood, at others of reed, at others of the bones of animals, horns, etc. The “box-wood” has been the common material out of which it was made. It was sometimes used for plaintive music (compare Mat_9:23); but it was also employed in connection with other instruments, while journeying up to Jerusalem to attend the great feasts there; see the note at Isa_30:29. Though employed on plaintive occasions, yet it was also employed in times of joy and pleasure. Hence, in the times of Judas Maccabeus, the Jews complained ‘that all joy had vanished from Jacob, and, that the flute and cithera were silent;’ 1 Macc. 3:45; see “Bib. Repos.” vol. vi. pp. 387-392. The graceful figures (shown in the book) will show the manner of playing the flute or pipe among the Greeks. It was also a common art to play the double flute or pipe, in the East, in the manner represented in the book. In the use of these instruments, in itself there could be no impropriety. That which the prophet rebuked was, that they employed them not for praise, or even for innocent amusement, but that they introduced them to their feasts of revelry, and thus made them the occasion of forgetting God. Forgetfulness of God, in connection with music and dancing, is beautifully described by Job:
They send forth their little ones like a flock,
And their children dance;
They take the timbrel and harp,
And rejoice at the sound of the organ;
They spend their days in mirth,
And in a moment go down to the grave.
And they say unto God -
‘Depart from us;
For we know not the knowledge of thy ways.
What is the Almighty, that we should serve him?
And what profit should we have if we pray unto him?’
In their feasts - ‘The Nabathaeans of Arabia Petrea always introduced music at their entertainments (Strabo, xvi.), and the custom seems to have been very general among the ancients. They are mentioned as having been essential among the Greeks, from the earliest times; and are pronounced by Homer to be requisite at a feast:
Μολπή τ ̓ ὀρχηστύ; τε τά γάρ τ ̓ ἀναθήματα δαιτός.
Molpē t' orchēstu; te ta gar t' anathēmata daitos.
Odyssey i. 152.
Aristoxenus, quoted by Plutarch, “De Musica,” says, that ‘the music was designed to counteract the effects of inebriety, for as wine discomposes the body and the mind, so music has the power of soothing them, and of restoring their previous calmness and tranquility.’ “See Wilkinsoh’s Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians,” vol. ii. pp. 248, 249.
But they regard not ... - The reproof is especially, that they forget him in their entertainments. They employ music to inflame their passions; and amid their songs and wine, their hearts are drawn away from God. That this is the tendency of such feasts, all must know. God is commonly forgotten in such places; and even the sweetest music is made the occasion for stealing the affections from him, and of inflaming the passions, instead of being employed to soften the feelings of the soul, and raise the heart to God.
The operation of his hands - The work of his hands - particularly his dealings among the people. God is round about them with mercy and judgment, but they do not perceive him.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Spontaneous conduction (BBC News)

I thank P.D. for passing on this link from BBC News about what is effectively a form of "jazz chironomy" (one wonders if the conductor has heard of the ancient or medieval forms). It is a fascinating concept and much is conveyed by it - certainly showing just how much ancient chironomy could have done if desired. Yet the rejection of a preconceived melody and of a fixed tonality makes the results (on the video) mostly unpleasant to me. My first reaction was, "You couldn't pay me enough to play in that ensemble and I certainly wouldn't applaud by the end of the concert. In fact it might take heavy chains to restrain me from going up and expressing what an exercise in futility the whole thing was in the end."

The purpose of ancient chironomy was not to encourage improvisation, but to preserve sacred tradition. To do that it had to have fixed melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and tonal norms. Beyond that improvisation might indeed have a role - yet still under conventions, as with the famous musical ficta so long prominent in Western music. But it seems that the eternal battle between Apollo and Dionysius (as some have put it) - between the approach of the born classicist and the born improviser - is far from finished.

On second thought, that dichotomy is likely a false one anyway. There are four human temperaments and each likely has an overall approach to music, of which Apollo and Dionysius represent just two. What makes Suzanne Haik-Vantoura's discovery so marvelous in part is that it balances all four temperamental perspectives: not too much freedom, not too much rigidity, not too much sentimentality and not too much stability. Here we have freedom and sentimentality exercised at the expense of rigidity and stability - in keeping with the natural strengths and weaknesses of the composer as they appear on camera, to the eye of one trained in personality type theory as I have been these past several years.

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Saul Levin: The Traditional Chironomy of Hebrew Scripture (1966)

Since 1993 I have owned a documentary made in 1966 at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem by Prof. Saul Levin of SUNY - Binghampton. The film sought to preserve three different versions of synagogue chironomy (the use of gestures to represent musical values) before they perished from use.

Some years ago I met Prof. Levin at a meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and discussed with him the one medieval source that preserves many of the original gestures behind the musical accents (te`amim) of the Masoretic Text: the 12th-century "reader's manual" translated into French by J. Derenbourg as the "Manuel du Lecteur" (1870). Prof. Levin was interested in what that text said, and he also graciously sent me a VHS copy of the documentary he made. A few years ago I had that transferred to DVD, and now I've converted it to .WMV format and uploaded it in four pieces to YouTube. You can see all four parts of the YouTube series on this page of my personal blog.

Curiously (or is it so curious?), not even the Yemenite chironomy featured in this documentary matches consistently the indications of the Manuel du Lecteur, perhaps because the manual was hidden for a long time and forgotten. In any case the chants you will hear, the names of the accents (in some cases) you will see documented, and most of the gestures you will see performed, demonstrably have no bearing on the original meaning of the accent system. Since we have a "deciphering key" to the accentuation that passes such a close shave with Occam's Razor, and for historical and musicological reasons too, we can affirm this statement.

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

Monday, August 8, 2011


From the archives of BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVEW we present these two articles: one on the restoration of a mosaic of King David (presented in the role of Orpheus) found in the remains of a synagogue in Gaza (left), and the other on "Musical Instruments in Biblical Israel". My thanks to Arturo Campillo of Mexico City for bringing these articles to my attention.

Blessings in Messiah (ברכות במשיח),
John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

P.S.: Correction: The second article is not associated with BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW but rather is a submission to

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lyre-playing technique and biblical psalmody

Yesterday I received a ten-stringed lyre made by Marini Made Harps and you can see some photographs (in slideshow format) I took of it yesterday here. How it sounds when put in the C minor scale and played with the fingers is well-illustrated by this video put up by another owner of such a lyre.

I tuned the lyre to the basic psalmodic scale as Mme. Haik-Vantoura inferred it from the Masoretic accents, thus extended over the ten-string range:

C D# (E) F# G A B C D# E - where (E) is the tonic of the basic scale.

Just now I was noodling with this lyre, using a guitar pick in keeping with the common practice of playing the kinnor with a plectrum (as Josephus noted for the kinnorot of the Temple). I was playing the melody reconstructed by Haik-Vantoura for Psalms 24:1-7, and found something which surely has relevance for Duane Christensen's consideration of the rhythmic patterns in Psalms, but also for the melodic construction of the Psalms.

Amazingly, the accentuation as preserved in the Letteris Edition for these verses (which differs from that of other versions at critical junctures) leads one to play in a consistent left-right stroking pattern note for note, beginning and ending each verse with a left stroke on the string. No exceptions in those verses, which retain the same mode or musical scale type (it alters in most of the rest of the Psalm).

What if that pattern is consistent in the rest of the Psalms? That could go a VERY long way to explaining why the Psalms have the "melopoetic" metrics that they do. In that scenario, originally the melodic line of the voice or voices would be doubled by the lead kinnor, presumably while other instruments added heterophony as required.

Another potential area of exploration would be variant readings in the printed editions I have and what MS. facsimilies I can look at. Readings which didn't fit the basic pattern of playing I just described - the most natural way of playing the instrument note by note with a plectrum - might well be dismissed as among the many scribal or editorial changes intended to make the notation more "self-consistent" by one arbitrary standard or another.

Best wishes,
John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Music of the Bible Revealed: Psalms 24

The original YouTube video is here.

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

Playing on the Kinnor 01

The original YouTube video is here.

Blessings in Messiah (ברכות במשיח),
John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

ScienceDaily: Study of Jazz Musicians Reveals How Brain Processes Improvisations

ScienceDaily (May 5, 2011) — A pianist is playing an unknown melody freely without reading from a musical score. How does the listener's brain recognise if this melody is improvised or if it is memorized?

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig investigated jazz musicians to discover which brain areas are especially sensitive to features of improvised behaviour. Among these are the amygdala and a network of areas known to be involved in the mental simulation of behaviour. Furthermore, the ability to correctly recognise improvisations was not only related to the musical experience of a listener but also to his ability to take the perspective of someone else.

The ability to discriminate spontaneous from planned (rehearsed) behaviour is important when inferring others' intentions in everyday situations, for example, when judging whether someone's behaviour is calculated and intended to deceive. In order to examine such basic mechanisms of social abilities in controlled settings, Peter Keller, head of the research group "Music Cognition and Action" at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig and his research associate Annerose Engel investigate musical constellations ranging from solos and duos to large musical ensembles. In a recent study, they investigated the brain activity of jazz musicians while these musicians listened to short excerpts of improvised melodies or rehearsed versions of the same melodies. The listeners judged whether each heard melody was improvised. (...)

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (2011, May 5). Amygdala detects spontaneity in human behavior: Study of jazz musicians reveals how brain processes improvisations. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 8, 2011, from here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Babylonian and Assyrian Poetry and Literature

My thanks once again to P.D. for this fascinating link. At this writing I have yet to explore it, but it gives a long list of texts recited on Flash Player, complete with transcriptions and translations. I look forward to using some of them as a springboard for article writing. (The graphic on the left was adapted from something found on Google Images: a photograph of a famous tablet comtaining the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, which is one of the texts recited on the recordings made at the University of London. The source article for the image actually relates to this very recording project under discussion!)

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

Music, books, teenagers and depression

Thanks to Avi W. for this link. My only question is why the researchers find this correlation surprising (and as a corollary, why they can't see the direct causal relationship), given the kinds of music most teenagers in the U.S. listen to today. There has been so much clinical work on this subject done before now.

Moreover, it's been known for literally millennia in high cultures (and from the beginning in so-called primitive ones) that some kinds of music, and some elements of music, are mood-altering - powerfully so, in fact. Only those who wanted to justify their musical tastes at all costs have ever argued otherwise.

(The above graphic comes from a recent New York Times article on how music affects the nervous system. An earlier post links to that article.)

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

An Archaeological Dig into the Mathematical Foundations of Western Music

I owe this link to B.K. This is not an account of a physical "dig" but of a mathematical exploration. One indication of its scope can be found in one of its subtitles: "The Seventeen Tones of Western Music - Really!" (Or eighteen, to complete the octave as derived in a particular way, as therein sharps are not the same as flats. This is the basis in fact of much of present Middle Eastern modality, including Jewish modality in the ancient Middle Eastern coummunities.)

One reason why I doubt Mr. Benton's conclusions as to the basis of Western music is that while the biblical modes in Suzanne Haik-Vantoura's chant vary all the tones save the stable E and B in one mode or another, one need not go beyond the just-tuned 12-tone (or 13-tone) scale to account for all the accidentals involved... at least not so far as I have yet perceived in actual test. It would be impractical to try an 18-tone vocal scale given the limited ranges of the instruments (ten or twelve strings, according to Josephus) that supported that chant.

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

More links on music perception and ancient music

This entry is basically a summary of news items sent to me over the past few days.

From the New York Times, we have the article "To Tug Hearts, Music First Must Tickle the Neurons" and the article "What Makes Music Expressive?"

From the BBC, we have the article (with the legacy recording) "Recreating the sound of Tutankhamun's trumpets" (one of which was recently stolen and returned).

Finally, from Scientific Blogging (Science 2.0) we have the article "Lost Sounds Orchestra: Ancient Musical Instruments Brought Back To Life" (a download page may be found on ASTRA Project on the Grid).

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

ScienceDaily: A man lost in musical time

I find the comments in response to this article by ScienceDaily, pro and con, at least as interesting as the article itself. The safest conclusion for me is that more work needs to be done (and maybe some terms redefined, too).

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Another universal property of music discovered

Thanks to PD for forwarding this article from ScienceDaily and this link to the PDF version of the original scientific paper. I'm not precisely sure what the subject under discussion is - yet - but now there is another known property besides the octave that is common to all known musical scales, historical and experimental, worldwide.

There is a physicist friend who would dispute that many of these scales, including the common Western equal-temperered scale, are in fact "musical" - many of the intervals involved are dissonant. My mentor Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, writing as a classical composer, pointed out the same while pointing out the fundamental (and therefore in that sense, universal) quality of diatonicism. But in any case, largely built on dissonances or not, the various scales have a fundamental mathematical property in common.

Here are some hints from the ScienceDaily article and the paper, respectively.

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"Stringed Instruments - The Nebel And Nebel-Azor" (1914)

Leaving further exploration of the page and its related links for another day, here is an article dating from 1914 on the rather mysterious nevel and the derivative nevel `asor mentioned in Hebrew Scripture. It was written before the discovery of what are apparently the only extant representations in art of the nevel from any period: those on the bar Kokhba coins of the second century AD (see left for an example). Its conclusions should be taken with a grain of salt accordingly: some direct and positive evidence (which we have now) is better than none (which we had then).

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Finely tuned minds: The secret of perfect pitch (New Scientist)

While this article requires one to either log in or become an online subscriber to view, the subject matter is worth nothing for future reference. As it happens, I have perfect pitch and from my experience, having it requires accurate tonal memory (which can be fooled, however, into misassigning a standard pitch to the wrong frequency).

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

ScienceDaily: Willingness to Listen to Music Is Biological, Study of Gene Variants Suggests

Hopefully it should surprise no one that the human willingness to listen to music is biological or that it has parallels in the willingness of animals to sing in their own ways. But how different human song is from animal song in so many fundamental aspects!

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב הסופר)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

SEED Magazine: The Improvisational Brain

Here is an article on how the brain plus musical training enables the skilled musician (whether classical or jazz - or in whatever other genre) to improvise music, much as a learner of a verbal language gains fluency step by step until he's able to write and even to improvise poetry.

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Creating Simplicity: How Music Fools the Ear (ScienceDaily)

The key point of the following article may be hard for many readers to understand, but it has a provocative connection with Suzanne Haik-Vantoura's model of how the biblical accents work as a musical system.


ScienceDaily (Jan. 24, 2011) — What makes music beautiful? The best compositions transcend culture and time -- but what is the commonality which underscores their appeal?

New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Research Notes suggests that the brain simplifies complex patterns, much in the same way that 'lossless' music compression formats reduce audio files, by removing redundant data and identifying patterns.

There is a long held theory that the subconscious mind can recognise patterns within complex data and that we are hardwired to find simple patterns pleasurable. Dr Nicholas Hudson used 'lossless' music compression programs to mimic the brain's ability to condense audio information. He compared the amount of compressibility of random noise to a wide range of music including classical, techno, rock, and pop, and found that, while random noise could only be compressed to 86% of its original file size, and techno, rock, and pop to about 60%, the apparently complex Beethoven's 3rd Symphony compressed to 40%.

Dr Nicholas Hudson says "Enduring musical masterpieces, despite apparent complexity, possess high compressibility" and that it is this compressibility that we respond to. So whether you are a die hard classicist or a pop diva it seems that we chose the music we prefer, not by simply listening to it, but by calculating its compressibility.

For a composer -- if you want immortality, write music which sounds complex but that, in terms of its data, is reducible to simple patterns.


Here is the connection with Haik-Vantoura's model of cantillation. The melodic-verbal line, all by itself, is deceptively simple. Each chanted word or group of words linked by a hyphen involves five melodic factors and five verbal factors determining meaning, each requiring a choice between at least two possible options. Two to the tenth power is 1,024 - so in some fashion I'm not yet learned enough to spell out, 1,024 bits of information are involved. That seems to me to be a high level of information to process word by word. And we have not yet taken into account the need for accompaniment or the implied vocal arrangements (solo, chorus, two choruses, or combinations of all three). And yet, all of that must be "unpacked" from a highly abbreviated written notation and its relationship to the words it supports. And for most people, at least, the results certainly are memorable!

I wonder if Dr. Hudson would be willing to experiment with any of Haik-Vantoura's recordings?

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Somewhere On the Mountain (Blogspot) - Psalms 27 Score

Recently I got a request for the score of Psalms 27 as published by Suzanne Haik-Vantoura - from a man named Martin Fleming. I wanted to record his thoughts in passing on my reponse to his request, not because I think what I did is any great thing but because I want to find that link again with ease should I ever wish to.

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Richard Dumbrill and Michael Levy (BAR and YouTube)

The above videos are by Michael Levy (top) and Richard Dumbrill (bottom). They are two different arrangements of Prof. Dumbrill's reconstruction of the famous Hurrian cult hymn described on this link to the "Daily News" of Biblical Archaeology Review. Prof. Dumbrill's version is the strict reconstruction with a slight accompaniment added; Mr. Levy's version is the "klezmer" version, with more improvisation (but with the virtue of actually being played on a lyre).

Prof. Dumbrill is associated with ICONEA, which has seminars from time to time as well as an annual conference (YouTube video). This year's conference is on the oud, itself the predecessor to the Western lute.

John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)