Search This Blog

Saturday, April 14, 2012

I will never give up on the sadness of D minor

Or: Why do composers choose certain keys?
Or: Is D minor the saddest key?

I occasionally review the stats on this blog, and to my endless surprise (and pleasure, I must admit) it is my original post on D minor that gets the most attention. I, myself, am still fascinated by D minor as a key, and by the idea of key selection. I am endlessly quizzing my music teachers (I have two, now) about what the real meaning is of keys having a "colour" and how if the technology now permits playing in an easy key while hearing the music transposed to any other key, who is really choosing a key for the "colour" of the "sound" now?

In the two years since I wrote my last post about D minor, (and four years since I wrote the first) I have studied a lot of music theory. I still have the same questions, but I can now understand some of the answers. As I've said before, and if I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, the key to adult education is repetition. (Get it?)

Here is the classic scene about D minor from This Is Spinal Tap (1984), just to get started:

A number of people have cited this bit as the actual source of the idea that D minor is, in fact, the saddest key. I think Nigel Tufnel (played by the brilliant Christopher Guest, aka Baron Haden-Guest. Yes.) is able to claim this because there is an older link from D minor to the dorian mode, which is the order of tones and semitones you have if you play the octave of white keys only from D to D, and historically associated with the qualities of 'serious and tearful', and considered to be the saddest mode. The names for modes come from ancient Greek music theory, but the names were re-purposed in the medieval period and then again (roughly) 300 years ago, to talk about scales. The actual name for the sequence of tones and semitones we know as a (natural) minor key, such as D minor, is the aeolian mode, but the minor triad on D (D - F - A) from the aeolian mode also matches up with dorian mode (ie all white keys running from D to D).

The real doorway for me was starting to learn guitar. (Too much time on my hands, I guess). After a few weeks, my teacher asked if I wanted to learn a Neil Young song, like Harvest Moon. Now Neil Young is a god of the guitar, and comes from the golden age of acoustic guitar, the 70's, during which period I was a teenager, so naturally I said OH yes! A Neil Young song! Yes! But the song I want to learn is Old Man. I have always loved this exquisite song, and I love the new version, too, by Redlight King, in which Young's music is sampled, actually the only time Young has given his permission for sampling. (BTdubs, Young and Mark Kasprzyk, known as Kazzer, from Redlight King, are another couple of nice Canadian boys! Go Canada!)

Here are the videos:
Neil Young:

Redlight King:

This song is given as written in D major, and starts and finishes with D major (the triad D - F# - A). The chords in the song are D - G - F and a little A minor. Wait a minute - that is not the usual rock music pattern (which in D would be D - A - G) , nor is it really D major, with that F natural chord instead of F sharp. I asked my guitar teacher and he said think about D dorian. No, that's not right either - no D major in D dorian, only D minor. However, my piano/theory teacher said think about a D blues scale, and BINGO! Access to both D major and D minor, and A minor (A - C  - E - all white keys not the A - C# - E of D major). A blues scale mixes major and minor chords, and on D mixes major and minor, aeolian and dorian (and the major scale mode, ionian, but who's counting).

There you have it - the D minor triad connects with dorian, and aeolian and also connects with blues in D, with its major/minor options. Blues = sad music, and the blues in D has the historical dorian element as well.

Now, I also have something fresh to say about D minor. I recently read a new book called Chopsticks. There is nothing I like better than a project with multiple strands. I know nothing about the author, Jessica Anthony, but the book's designer, Rodrigo Corral, has already made it onto my "cool-hunting" book designer list (Actually I saw a joke cover he did in a short piece in Wired magazine a few days before I received this book, and the name struck me. Shout-out to Scott Westerfeld - I think of myself as a trend-setter, the way he explains it, not one of the very coolest, known as innovators - I like to catch the trends quickly, often thru magazines. I don't make them but I get on them early. Loved his book So Yesterday. For that matter, covering something like the same ground, I loved William Gibson's Pattern Recognition to the extent that it is one of my all-time favourites. But je digress. Sorry, can't seem to stop today.)

So...every now and then a book appears that merits a second, or even a third look, and Chopsticks is one. At first it seemed like the most interesting thing about it was its existence as a new type of book: a story told thru a modern selection of ephemera and epistles - texts and playlists, for example. Interesting, but, for me, of uncertain value, both narratively and aesthetically. Then I thought about tracking down the YouTube references embedded in the "texts".

As I was paging thru the book, I started to rethink my impressions. OK - on one level it's "Romeo and Juliet with texting" (with a little West Side Story ethnic mix thrown in for good measure). Cute. Then, well, the girl is actually a piano prodigy, and her various performance pieces are shown on bits of ephemera, before the texting gets underway, and I started to look them up and listen to them (mainly the adagio movements, I confess. Love the sad music.). Then I realized they progressed with her distress from two pieces in Eb major via a couple of shorter pieces in A minor and B minor to a piece in C minor to BRAHMS FIRST PIANO CONCERTO IN D MINOR! OMG! ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL AND SAD PIECES OF MUSIC EVER! QED: D minor is the saddest key!!!!  (I should just write QEDminor.) And isn't that a circular progression? And doesn't it mirror the arc of the narrative? Nice!

Here is the great Arthur Rubenstein performing the first part of the second movement, the adagio, natch, of Brahms Piano Concerto No 1, in D minor, Op 15:

and the second part:

It's a lot of listening, and a little old, but worth it.

Then I started copying the playlists, thinking about whether they were related thematically to the plot, or more like  leit-motifs for characters, (already a nice, and musical, level of sophistication in a book). It will take some time, but I will listen my way thru them, too, even the pieces I know, in order to work out their places. Then I ran into some of the YouTube references. Funnily, the first one in the book didn't seem to work for me. I thought "Oh! It's bogus." I decided to try one more before giving up, and it led to a delightful and meaningful link. I went back to the first, and typed it in slightly differently, and watched in surprise until it made sense, too. I checked them all, and even tracked down the things that were at one remove. Fun? Wow!

And I found one that doesn't seem to have attracted the attention of the young lovers, by a pianist who is actually quite a fascinating prodigy himself.


And then I finally went to look up some stuff about Anthony and Corral. Nothing much is available. I guess I have to send in my own questions. (I have sent my questions to their publisher, but have not received any reply. Oh well, I guess they are not the nice Canadian type.)

Back at the time of my first post on D minor, Dory left a comment recommending a resource for  understanding key characteristics, called, strangely,  Characteristics of Musical Keys, kept by Mickey Koth, a fiddler and music librarian. The site is really a meta-site with links to all kinds of key-identity resources. It's a lot of fun and quite interesting, if you are motivated to look further into it.

The marigold is wondering nervously if everyone is familiar with QED? Just in case, it is Latin, Quod erat demonstradum - Thus it is demonstrated. Is that not a useful Latinism? Can you use it in a sentence?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

LibraryThing Early Review

Pazuzu's Girl
by Rachel Coles

Although the name is not catchy, this book definitely is! The story of a mortal-ish daughter of an ancient god has been done - think Neil Gaiman, think Rick Riordan - this was still original enough to read and enjoy, And...a character in the book is a D&D player who recognizes Pazuzu, (and the antagonist, Lamashtu, his "ex-wife") lifted into the book and into Dungeons and Dragons from ancient Assyrian and Babylonian mythology, so the title itself may actually attract some readers.

I found some of the writing quite awkward, and some of the exegeses into politics a little under-developed and unnecessary both, but I think it could be suitable for editing and publishing at a different quality. (I'm thinking of the Trylle trilogy by Amanda Hocking here.)

It also began to feel like a gaming environment, with the names and alternate names and overlaid histories, and world-wide geography. Having read and loved ReamDe by Neal Stephenson, I have a new appreciation for that part of culture, which is not my home, and I think the feeling of traveling there in this book was part of its appeal for me.

And although the title character is a teen-aged girl, and the book indicated as Young Adult, one of my categories of interest, there is really nothing that restricts this book to kid readers, which is another pleasure. YA literature is often so programmatic, trying to teach thru a fictional setting, hitting a matrix of Politically Correct qualities, and this book had none of that vibe.

Once again, the very convenience of having the e-book version on my phone was a pleasure, and the book kept me great company while I was spending a lot of time in waiting rooms without my own stuff. After the last couple of e-book duds, it was refreshing to find a little unexpected nugget of quality. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and looking at a phone full of writing and games, I chose to keep reading Pazuzu's Girl. There you go! Uptwinkles!

Book bonus feature: some cute attention to the world of butterflies, if you like that kind of thing.  Which I do. Needless to say. Then why am I saying it?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Special Music Issue - Just to Share

I was hearing this song, and loving it, (thanks to Afrouz) and I finally took the time to find it on YouTube. The fun thing is that they are a DJ and singer from Montreal/Toronto, and the sad thing is that they are no longer together. The song is awesome. There are these two great videos that go with it: the first one won a contest to be the official video for the song, but the other is also cute and good for sharing with a general audience. There appear to be more videos of this song, plus remixes and all kinds of other cool Thunderheist songs, but you can just go search them on YouTube on your own!

The marigold wonders if it would be useful as a status message on Facebook or BBM or whatever: I am dusting it off and jerking it. Maybe not. I think it would make me nervous.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

1st meeting of the New Neologisms Club

 I suppose you are wondering why I have gathered you all here today.

Well,  I wrote it in haste, but as I think about it, I am ready to make a motion that we adopt our first new neologism: stryve. Try is very casual; strive implies a lot of effort over time; stryve is trying harder than try but not quite as hard as strive. Good for working up from 90 to 100 as a total-books-read-for-the-year stat (TBRY). Requires sustained effort, but in a pleasant way. More than just try, but not quite strive. Of course stryve is a homophone with strive, but I don't think that need stop us. Do I have a second?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

OMG Reading is kewl: Best Reading of 2011

I just realized that it is time to prepare my best of 2011 reading list. God!!

Actually, I finished the year on a high note. I read a lot, A LOT, of YA (young adult) fiction this year, and it was really fun. I could spend the rest of my life reading there. However, I received a couple of grown-up books as Christmas presents, something that has become more rare, as even my nearest and dearest are not quite sure of what I have read or what I might like, or more so, what I might already have on my to-read pile.

One of the books I received was Reamde, by Neal Stephenson (2011). He is one of my favourite writers, and all his books are grown-up and enormous. A few of them are historical, and a few of them are (not-quite)-five-minutes-in-the-future, although this one is set squarely in the present. He loves the the intersection of math and words, aka coding, and his books are an actual thrill to read. Even this title, with its multiple meanings: a mash-up of 'read' and 'me' - where are the boundaries between input and self?  Or is it 'remade' at play? (Thanks, O.) Does that refer to the individual, the world, culture, language? These are huge questions, posed so simply and elegantly in the style of the current moment. Plus there is the textual aspect of 'Reamde' being the name of a virus, offered with the misspelling as a clue; plus the textual aspect of it being the name of a I'll leave it to you to find it out, but it all gives one something to fall asleep thinking about.

After just 100 pages, Reamde was already on the top of the list. "Number One Champion!" (in the delightful words of J-Lo, a pseudonymous alien in Adam Rex's The True Meaning of Smekday. Don't ask. Just get it and read it.) After 400 pages, I was already sad that it had to end. After all 1044 pages, consumed in about 4 days, I decided that it was a really great example of genre fiction, only I can't really figure out what to call the genre. Chinese gaming thrillers? Mobster computer thrillers? Midwestern computer business thrillers? Gaming mobster romantic thrillers? Very readable and engaging, I must say. Which would not necessarily be said of all of Stephenson's books. Or all my choices on this list, for that matter. What a way to end the year!

I think there are about another dozen really great books that I read in 2011, but the books on this list all offered something particular. Anyway, without further ado, here are the other entries, in alphabetical order by author, as usual:

L'elenco telefonico di Atlantide by Tullio Avoledo (The Telephone Directory of Atlantis) (2003) - the story of bank consolidation in Italy, mixed with sci-fi/time travel/Atlantis - like dealing with my actual bank in Italy, but with slightly less humour. Ha ha (laughed grimly). Unfortunately it is still only available in Italian, but I am willing to translate it, if anyone is looking for a translator of Avoledo's work into English. Meanwhile, since I can't buy his books here in Canada, I realized I can buy the next one I want to read as an e-book from his publisher, Einaudi, and read it on my device. In 2011 he published a science fiction novel, Un buon posto per morire, (A Good Place to Die) in collaboration with Davide "Boosta" Dileo, keyboard player of the Turinese band Subsonica. I love the idea of a collaboration, and with a musician at that. The novel won the Emilio Salgari Prize 2012 for the best Italian adventure novel. Coincidentally, this past summer I bought a reissue of a Salgari book, now on my to-read pile, Il corsaro nero (The Black Corsair - actually also available in English) a pirate adventure written in 1898 and recommended by an Italian relative as a high point from his childhood during the war. Everything does connect.

And here is a nice Subsonica video for you to enjoy.
(tutti i miei sbagli: all my mistakes)

And now, back to the books:

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker (2009) - one of the most poetic writers of our time, writing about poetry writers. Very clever and often very beautiful.

The Year of Miracle and Grief by Leonid Borodin, a Soviet dissident writer (published in English in 1984 and possibly in Russian at that time, too) - this book is mysteriously beautiful and poetic, and, also mysteriously, no one I know has heard of him or it: neither the Russians of my acquaintance, nor the students of Russian of my acquaintance. (Ta-da! Winner of the MOST PRETENTIOUS ENTRY!)

Matched by Ally Condie (2010) - not for the quality of the writing so much as the starting point that even benevolently managed society sucks. (Hello Canada of the future). (I think another grim laugh is in order here, no?) Stood out against the background of dystopian-future teen novels. (I also mentioned this in my post Thumbnails of the Hot Young Adult Book Series.)

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé (published in English in 2010, in French in 2009) - a perfect book about books in a crowded field, from the beautiful publisher Europaeditions. My full-length review is here.

Switched by Amanda Hocking (2010) - what an accomplishment by an outsider. Hocking wanted to sell her books on at the impulse price of a song on iTunes, so she did. As soon as I read about this phenomenon, I so wanted to support the idea of indie publishing that I rushed to Amazon and bought the book. And then, it was so fun to read, I bought the second. And when I went to buy the third title in the series, I couldn't find it. Anywhere. Then I managed to find out that a publisher had bought it, withdrawn it for further editing and reissue on paper. You go girl!

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (2008) - the concept was so interesting: our current communication environment has already reduced our mental white space to virtually nil, and thinking about it led Ness to write a science fiction about a place where there is no silence in your brain from the thoughts of other living beings. (Also mentioned in Thumbnails of the Hot Young Adult Book Series.)

Catch Me When I Fall - by Patricia Westerhof (2011) - this exquisite Canadian book of short stories took my by surprise. My full-length review is here.

Nine books this year, I guess.  Well!

PS I usually have a lot of reading time during the last few days of the year, and I use them to get in a last couple of books and up my total-books-read-for-the-year stats (TBRY?). This year I read 90 books, my second highest total, after the 92 I read in 2009. You can check my records as Souci on LibraryThing and check the tag for 2011 for the other 80 books of this year, in case you want to dispute my choices. Although you should always remember: de gustibus non est disputandem. There are also tags for 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006, if you care to have a look.

I thought I might also link to my previous "Best of the year" posts:
My Top Reads of 2010
The Nervous Marigold's Top Eleven Fiction Reads of 2009
The Nervous Marigold's Best Reads of 2008

The marigold wonders nervously if I should try for (strive for, or, potential neologism on the model of guesstimate: stryve for) the 100 book challenge on LibraryThing. But, what are the rules? What if I fail? What do I need to sacrifice in order to make it? And why are my posts so long? And does anyone read to the end? And should that matter?

And I guess I need to make a new tag here on the Nervous Marigold: "best of" will do, I think.