music & dance

I got curious about how the whole Radiohead thing had played out when I heard mention of it on NPR’s Morning Edition this morning. Turns out the band is not presently releasing statistics about it. An independent market research company called comScore, though, released this report on how the downloads have played out. They say that 1.2 million people visited the site, a “significant percentage of visitors ultimately downloading the album” (how’s that for market data?). They were willing to be much more precise with the percentages than the totals, though, saying that about 38% of the people who downloaded the album paid something (40% of US downloaders), and the average voluntary payment was $6 ($8.05 for US downloaders).

Anyway, Radiohead released this statement in response:

“In response to purely speculative figures announced in the press regarding the number of downloads and the price paid for the album, the group’s representatives would like to remind people that… it is impossible for outside organisations to have accurate figures on sales.

However, they can confirm that the figures quoted by the company comScore Inc are wholly inaccurate and in no way reflect definitive market intelligence or, indeed, the true success of the project.”

If by “accurate” they mean “exactly correct”, then I agree. However, comScore is being quite open about their methodology and their approach seems sound to me. Good statisticians can be surprisingly accurate, and the band’s unwillingness to publish the statistics themselves don’t inspire me with confidence that comScore is “wholly inaccurate”. Just how far off does one need to be to count as “wholly inaccurate”, anyway? So, needless to say, I don’t know, but if I had to bet, I’d bet that comScore’s data are not far off the mark (I’ll say +- 5%).

Wired’s blog post on the matter seems to miss the “significant percentage of visitors” part of comScore’s report and thus estimates with faulty reasoning that the band netted $2.7 million from the stunt. Without knowing just what this “significant percentage” is, even approximately, then I do think it’s fair to say that estimates of the total are “purely speculative”. However, I’ll go out on a limb and bet that the band netted over $1 million in the first month of the ordeal. I’ll also stand by my previous prediction that over the course of their experiment they will serve up over a million downloads and gross 2-5 million dollars. That, of course, was and is wild speculation. But comScores numbers are similar. A small but very well-known group of people have access to the real answers, and I challenge them to go public with them. But, they know everyone wants to know, and I suspect they like the attention of keeping the secret. It’s certainly their right to do so, but I think it’s kind of lame.

A while back, my friends at the Indy Contra dance asked if I’d be interested in calling a dance before a performance of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. What?? Apparently the ISO was doing an outreach program and was in to having other arts organizations give performances before their concerts. Hey, ok.
I’m not sure it’s a good idea for them, but I certainly don’t mind calling, and it’d be fun to get a free admission to an ISO concert, I’ve never seen them live.

So, last night was the night! And, I gotta say, I think it was a good idea on their part. While we certainly aren’t polished for presentation (contradancing is for dancing, not for watching) people definitely seemed interested and we had quite a crowd gathered around us (including from the balcony that encircled the space we were dancing in). I didn’t have my camera :( but Beth did so I’m hoping to get some pictures from her. Tom and Fred played a great selection of music for this event, and Priscilla and John (who both drove up with me from Bloomington) and all the other dancers did great.

The concert was also very nice. This Boris Giltburg fellow is really good, and it had been a while since I wrapped myself up in the world of professional orchestra performers like that. This turned out to be highly intensified by having John along, because he’s studying to be one (a trumpeter, no less) and had plenty of opinions and gossip to share about this unusual professional culture. Anyway, good concert, I especially liked the Shostakovich.

And… it was fun to be in Indy right before their long-awaited first appearance in the Superbowl. The city is really excited. Actually, I didn’t see a lot of riotous behavior or anything, people in Indianapolis are pretty mild mannered. But what was so striking is that EVERYWHERE had some “Go Colts” type stuff up. Seriously, as we walked the two blocks from the car to the concert hall, I’m not sure there was a single store front that didn’t have something Colts related in the window. Certainly there was no view of anything downtown without several Colts logos in them. And it was topped off by the orchestra projecting a Colts logo on the wall behind them during the warmup periods and the intermission (they turned it off while they were performing). Classy!

And, well, I’m with them! I don’t think I’ve ever cared as much who won the SuperBowl as I do this year. The Colts are a great team… highly skilled, smart, and nice! And, of course, the regional allegiance plays high. So, looking forward to the game tonight! Go Horse!! :)

Earlier this week, I had to come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t pure coincidence that I had such a huge number of deadlines yesterday and today. I knew I was leaving town, and so, when negotiating due dates with the people I work with, I was making sure they happened before I left. So, they all collected on Thursday and Friday.

So, after a flurry of work, I’m now on the road. I’m sitting in a cafe in Urbana Illinois, where in a little over an hour I will be the caller at their regular bi-weekly contra dance. I got here an hour and a half early, which was kind of on purpose. Somehow, I just couldn’t convince myself that if I left Bloomington at 6pm (EST) I’d still be in Urbana by 7:30 (CST) comfortably early for their dance. But, try it was, and now I’m kind of wishing that I had made that one last Xmas shopping trip before I left.

But really, it’s good. I feel under control, relaxed, and able to do something fun like write a blog entry instead of worrying about being on time. And, it really feels like I’m on tour/vacation, sitting in an unfamiliar cafe and wondering if they have free wifi Internet access here. I can’t see where they do, and even if they did, I would think twice about trying to get it working. I don’t have that much time, and those free wireless things aren’t always very friendly to Linux users. So, I’m doing the “type now, post later” thing. And yes, I won’t be able to post this until after the tour is over. Because, you see, after Urbana tonight, I’m off to E. Lansing, Michigan tomorrow night to call the dance there. And then, Sunday, I’ll head to Cleveland to stay with my parents. And, as soon as I get my Mom’s Xmas Internet access working, this will magically appear on my blog.

Oh, and don’t worry, Mom knows about this gift, so I’m not spilling any beans. :)

Saturday night, I called the 5th Saturday dance here in Bloomington.

Tuesday night, I called the dance in Indianapolis.

Wednesday night, I thought I’d get to actually dance. And, technically, I did, but only one dance.

The first Wednesday of the month is always open mic night at the [Bloomington contradance](, and we frequently don’t have very many callers. But we usually have plenty of musicians. As I exited my car (being unusually punctual for the dance) I thought “maybe I should have brought my banjo… Oh, there’ve been plenty of musicians at open mic nights lately, and besides, you want to dance.”


I saw a caller signup sheet when I showed up, and it said that Patsy was going to call (which, I correctly guessed, was her first time calling at open mic. Great!). Bill and Bob were both signed up too, leaving only one open slot. “Cool! I might be able to dance the whole time”..


I did dance the first dance with Cisa. Patsy did a great job calling. The music was great… But it was pretty much only John playing his fiddle. I felt for him. Plus there were too many male dancers. Plus there was a beautiful guitar (a Silvertone f-hole, kind of like [this](, sitting on the stage. Instead of dancing the second dance, I went up on stage and asked John if he knew whose guitar that was. “Yours!” he said. It was his actually, but he brought it in case he found himself playing fiddle alone and there just happened to be someone who knew how to play the guitar but who didn’t bring one to the dance.

Oh, I guess that would be me!

So, for the 2nd-8th dances of the evening, I played guitar. Wow. So, I used to play the guitar a lot in high school, and I still “get it”. But, I’m out of shape and tend to find my hands getting tired when I play the guitar vs. the banjo these days… plus, I never have really played old-time guitar. I’ve often marvelled at how those old time guitarists can keep up that “boom-chang” so steadily and for so long.

I’m still marvelling…

Yeah, wow, I felt very exposed, and very underprepared for playing the guitar for a contra dance. A thought I had was “[compared with other instruments] it’s easy to know what to do, but it’s very difficult to do it… or at least to do it well”. I’m hoping that I helped to round out the sound of the band, but from where I sat, I was not at all certain that I was.

I actually felt like I got better at it as the evening wore on. I joked to John afterwards that it was a bit like an intensive work session on old time guitar. I just had to **keep playing**. After a while I noticed that the middle finger of my left hand was tingling. I said “I think I’m doing nerve damage to my finger…. Oh wait, it’s just a blister.” It was just a blister. Then a song or two later, the blister popped, which I realized because there was only one possible source for the droplets of clear liquid that had suddenly appeared on my fingers. It’s remarkable how much more pressure is applied to ones fingers on the guitar vs. the banjo.

But, actually, it didn’t hurt much. And, really, it was my right (strumming) hand where I felt like I was really getting the lesson. The chords I was playing were all simple standard stuff, and although I made plenty of mistakes, fingering the chords for old time music is not that hard. But, keeping your right hand going with the “boom-changs”, being creative with the “Booms” and still getting a clear ring on the “changs”… it ain’t easy. My hat’s off to all of you old time guitarists that make us melody instruments sound so good.

In any event, no one asked me to leave, so I at least played that well. And had a good time at Max’s place afterwards. So, good…

[Gene Hubert at a dance](
Last night I called a [contra dance in Indianapolis]( A few days earlier, a friend of mine from Indy emailed me pointing out that legendary contra dance choreographer, caller, and dancer [Gene Hubert had died]( I had heard that he had been diagnosed with [pancreatic cancer]( and was very ill, but I had not heard about his death on March 6. He was 51 years of age. This is obviously a terribly sad event for Gene’s family, but I don’t know any of them. What I do know is that Gene’s dances are some of the most frequently called in modern contradancing (at least in the Midwest), and that this stems immediately from the fact that they are so smooth and so fun.

Glenn Augenstein called an entire program of dances by Gene at the [contra dance in Louisville]( on Monday night, and I decided to follow his lead and the suggestion of my friend and do the same last night. It’s caused a good deal reflection for me about everything from what makes Gene’s dances so good to how the great people in the American contra dance community have contributed to the joy of others. Gene was a member of a very small group of contra dancers about whom I am prone to use the word “legendary”. The fact that he is gone at age 51 is a tragedy. At the same time, his dances are likely to be part of my life for as long as I continue to live.

Thank you, Gene. On behalf of all of us.

I just heard [K. T. Tunstall]( [interviewed on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday]( Scott Simon introduced her as a “one woman band”, playing multiple instruments and singing all at the same time. “How do you do that?” he asked repeatedly after she performed a song like this.

Coincidentally, tonight at the [Buskirk-Chumley Theater](, [Andrew Bird]( is headlining a sold out show. I was introduced to Mr. Bird’s music when he opened for Ani DiFranco at a show I saw a couple of years ago. I did not hear
[the interview with him on Weekend Edition Sunday]( about a year ago. Apparently Scott Simon didn’t either, because if he had, he probably wouldn’t have been at such a loss as to how Ms.
Tunstall did what she did.

I’m sure I have an advantage over Scott Simon on understanding this. I’m a musician, and I’ve played with electronic gadgetry of the general sort that these musicians use to build their layered sound. And, perhaps because of that, when I hear these types of performances, I come away more impressed with the electronics than with the performers. This is a shame, because both of these musicians impressed me with their (traditional) musical abilities. Mr. Bird plays his violin very well, and his whistling is remarkable to say the least. Ms. Tunstall’s voice is so lovely that I didn’t even mind her joke about Ella Fitzgerald being her voice teacher. But, yeah, when either of them get into that layered-loop effect, I find that the music suffers.

It’s an amazing technology. We’ve all got to wowed when we first hear it, and I’m no exception to that. But for me, that first hearing was years ago. I’m not wowed anymore. What I find now is that I think about how they build these soundscapes, and the limits that the technology places on them. They always have to build the sound one layer at a time. If they want harmony, they have to first sing or play one line, then the next, etc. Then, once the layers are going, their options are to keep repeating or to stop repeating, at least for a while. I believe I noticed instances in both of their music where a loop dropped out for a while, and then came back. Again, it’s great that their gadgets have that ability. But even with it, I find that the implications of this approach to making music are very limiting, with the result being that no matter how different two artists may be, if they use this layered-loop approach, the results ends up sounding kind of similar.

I’m not a musical Luddite. Nor am I opposed to lots of repetition in music. Music like [Steve Reich](’s *Come Out* fill me with awe. But in that case, Reich is specifically focusing on electronics and repetition, and listening to it we find that we learn fascinating things about sound that we’d never dreamt of before. Mr. Bird and Ms. Tunstall, in contrast, seem to trying to build a sound that makes it sound like they are magically creating a band all by themselves. If either of them led a large band, the sound of the band would probably be a fair amount like they layered-loop sound that they make by themselve. But, if they actually had the bands, their hands would not be tied when they were writing the songs, and I’d rather hear it that way.

Of course, in a world glutted with highly talented musicians, if they took that approach, would they reach even the level of fame that they have? Would I bother writing a blog post about them? Would I even give them a second thought if I heard them? Likely not. So, there’s a publicity component that also cannot be denied.

It’s all so complex. But, what it comes down to for me is that my favorite of the songs that Ms. Tunstall performed on the radio was the one where she just sang and played the guitar.

Now that I have my new turntable, I’m able to listen to selections from my vast vinyl collection again. I recently found myself singing *Cinema Show* a relatively well-known song from 1973, during the Peter Gabriel era of Genesis. I have a live version on the album *Seconds Out*, so I played that the other day. Yeah, wow, good tune.

Anyway, today, while I was eating lunch, I was singing it in my head, and realized that I didn’t know all of the lyrics, so I figured I’d check the web. Naturally, I had no problem finding [the lyrics]( I had most of them, including “take a little trip back with Father Tiresias”. But the key line I was looking for was the following statement, being attributed to Tiresias:

I have crossed between the poles, for me there’s no mystery.
Once a man, like the sea I raged,
Once a woman, like the earth I gave.
But there is in fact more earth than sea.

Yeah, ok, what the hell? The real words I was missing were “I raged” and “I gave”. But, learning the words didn’t really satisfy my curiosity.

Well, thanks again to the World Wide Web, I also had no problem finding out [more about Tiresias]( I certainly recognized the name, I’m sure I knew it from studying mythology in high school. I probably would have been able to remember/guess that he was a prophet. But I certainly didn’t know that he had spent time as both a man and a woman, and lost his sight by agreeing with Zeus that sex was more pleasurable for a woman than for a man. Hera, who learned with this information that she had lost a bet with her esteemed husband, struck Tiresias blind.

So… woah. This song is apparently a poem about sex being better for women than it is for men…. with an apparent comment that it’s because women are “giving” where as men are “raging”. This has really changed my understanding of the song, to say the least. I wonder when, if ever, I’ll be able to hear/think about the song without having to wonder if sex is a matter of “raging” for me as a man (I’ve certainly never thought of it that way), or whether being “giving” in sex brings one more joy. Or whether it was that way for Zeus and Hera. Or whether it’s fair to say that earth “gives” while an ocean “rages”. Or…

The inspiration to blog about this was not because of these particular questions. Rather, it was because I was struck again by how interesting it is when one’s understanding of a song can change suddenly when one learns the actual lyrics. Much has been made of the misunderstanding of song lyrics, but in this case, I didn’t have any of the lyrics wrong, I just knew I didn’t exactly know all of the words. I was really close, but just a few holes in my understanding, combined with an incomplete knowledge of the mythical character involved, made me pretty much not get the point of the lyrics, even though I’ve known the song (minus a few words) quite well for about 20 years.

OK, that’s not all that deep either, but what do you want? It’s just a short post to a blog!

Saturday night was the [Illinois All Night Dance]( in McLean, Ill. I was the featured caller, or, as it said on the promotional materials, the “host”. :) I thought that was kind of funny.

After a lot of discussion about who all might be joining me on the trip, it turned out to be just Matece and I. It was very nice to have company, we had some great conversations along the way. It was nice to spend some “QT”, as she called it, noting that we really never had before. So good.

The dance itself was fun. It’s in this remarkable place… the town is surrounded by farms, and it exists seemingly for the sole purpose of giving farmers a good place to load their crops onto trains. So, the main fixture of the town is a grain elevator next to railroad track. Near that is what’s called the “town hall” although it seems more a community center than a center of politics. I don’t know. Anyway, it has a beautiful dance floor in it, not very big but lovely. There’s a decent stage on one side of the square dance hall, and balconies around the other three sides. Very nice.

One quirk, about which I had been warned: the floor slopes. It’s imperceptable if you’re just on it, but… wow, it makes the dance line move! A line will start in the center of the hall and around half way through the tune it will have drifted all the way to one of the walls. Fascinating phenomenon, and it repeated on almost every dance of the whole night. :)

Calling was fun. My role as host was a bit confusing… since the dance was scheduled from 8p to 2a, they don’t expect one person to call the whole time. That’s wise. What they do then is have volunteer calling as well. That’s not a bad idea, but it wasn’t very structured, and what I found is that I didn’t make as much of a connection with the dancers as I normally do when I’m the hired caller. But, hey, it meant that I could dance! So, I did a mix of calling and dancing, and some of the other callers there were very good, so it worked out just fine. The music was good. People had fun. I guess the only thing that would have made it a lot better would have been more dancers. Ah, well. It was still fun.

If you don’t live around here (or if you live here but never leave
your bomb shelter) then you might not know that the [Lotus World Music
& Arts Festival]( is this big deal music
festival in Bloomington. Definitely the biggest event anything like
it in town, they close off streets and get about six venues to all
open their doors to whatever music gets scheduled by the Lotus
organizers. The town starts buzzing. Everyone in my circle of
friends gets really really excited.

Well, almost everyone…