How to Punish Your Neighbor with Music (Plus Other Annoyances & Amusements)

Here’s my broker’s assortment of observations, links, and amusements. I enjoy collecting these odds and ends, and plan to continue publishing them on an occasional basis. This compendium is free to all—so you can share it with friends or online—but the next one will be a special for paid subscribers.

Some music mysteries are simply unsolvable—for example, this Irish wedding dance from 1906. There’s probably a whole dissertation waiting to be written about it. But one photo’s enough for me.

Innovations in music tech: An inventor made a sound-generating device that attaches to the ceiling, and has the sole purpose of annoying your upstairs neighbor.

What happens after companies acquire multi-million dollar song catalogs? Well, there’s not much money in streaming—so get ready for Kurt Cobain Converse running shoes and Alice Cooper tires.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around Bitches Brew beer which presents “a mix of traditional African mead and English stout… chock full of aromas of vanilla, licorice and chocolate.”

My considered judgment is that nothing associated Miles Davis ought to be described as vanilla.

An Italian artist has sold an “invisible sculpture” for $18,000.

I have a special interest in music used for protests and to expand human rights. So I was delighted to learn about dancers who confront the police by vogueing.

Another unconventional form of musical protest involves complaints choirs. The first one was launched in Britain in 2005, but the concept has spread all over the world. The idea is simple—your complaint gets more attention, and is far more satisfying, when set to music.

The pandemic was a bad time for choirs, but here’s a video made shortly before we went into lockdown.

Photo of a police tuba ensemble (1915)—I wonder if they were used for interrogations?

Here’s a favorite passage from Michael Ignatieff’s biography of philosopher Isaiah Berlin—who during my student days had a reputation as the most intellectual conversationalist in all of Oxford. One day Winston Churchill decided to consult Professor Berlin over lunch, but by mistake the invitation was sent to songwriter Irving Berlin.

Where in the world are music fans most interested in new music? It’s Latin America. Nowhere else is even close.

I was recently asked to offer guidance to newcomers who are learning about big band jazz. How should they approach this body of work, so influential in American music history, but out of alignment with current pop song trends? Here’s my response.

Here’s my favorite film clip of live music during the big band era. The sound is overdubbed, but the visual images are unforgettable. This is an aspect of the Swing Era that no recording can convey.

I’m happy to see Dan Tepfer’s “Bach Upside Down” project get some attention from NPR. I’m hoping he will release an entire album of these performances—in which Bach is played as written and then chromatically inverted using some diabolic software. Here’s an example:

Meanwhile, the quest continues for the “worst song ever.”

There really is free music: For many years, expanding copyright laws—mostly promoted by the Disney corporation—prevented music from entering public domain. But, finally, we are seeing some classic songs from the 1920s released from copyright restriction. More than ever before, jazz musicians can envision recording entire albums with songs in the public domain. (See for example Mike Jones’s recent solo piano release.)

As a resource to musicians, David Berger and Chuck Israels are offering a free download of The Public Domain Anthology—featuring 348 songs with both traditional and modern harmonizations. 

Then there was the time when Sun Ra went to Egypt.

So many years later, I’m still grieving the death of pianist Michel Petrucciani (1962-1999). Here’s a recent transcription of a brief solo piano performance. Happy listening!