This is my place on the web. Eventually, you’ll find below all manner of publications, blog posts, microblog posts, and essays. Some of this content was previously hosted on my academic website at Columbia and on a Jekyll blog that was hosted on GitHub Pages. You can also find me on Mastodon.

Listening to Thunder (as)

A couple of nights ago I had the dubious pleasure of a musical performance at 4 a.m. in the morning, awake when ought to have been sleeping, roused precisely by the auditory phenomenon that captured my attention. A system of several gigantic thunderstorms, larger than any I’d ever experienced my life, trundled over and around Dresden for about a half an hour bringing with them an unignorable musical event. The sheer volume of each thunderclap was such that I felt it not only in my “ears” (whatever that means) but also in my head, my chest, my whole body.

Tools for Thinking

I am shamelessly quoting Daniel Dennett at length here, in his formulation of Rapoport’s Rules. The best antidote I know for [a] tendency to caricature one’s opponent is a list of rules promulgated many years ago by social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport. How to compose a successful critical commentary: Attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly and fairly that your target says: “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.

A Trivial Plain-text Notation for Pivot Chords

A simple way to write about modulations and the pivot chords which can help effect them using nothing but ASCII. Use braces and brackets to distinguish the controlling tonality. Use (tonic, mode) notation where: tonic is in [C, C sharp, D flat …] mode is in [-, +] For example: (C, +):{[VI;II} -> V -> I]:(G, +) reads in plain English: A modulation is effected from C major to G major by the pivot chord VI in C major which is II in G major (which progreses to a tonicisation of G major)

Metric Fakeouts on Spotify

Reading Justin London in class this week. Checking out his website I found a link to a curated Excel sheet of pop songs with what he calls “metric fake-outs”, or metrically ambiguous openings. Using Ivy, I converted the source file (available here) into a public Spotify playlist which is available here. Credit: Justin London (homepage)

I’ve kept it no secret from myself that the time is ripe to buy a new laptop. During the summer, the screen of my 2009 MacBook Core 2 Duo started behaving badly. Strictly speaking, it’s the backlight or the inverter which delivers power to it which is giving me bother. It was the first Mac I’d owned (having had a PC laptop to call my own before then) and I found it a natural transition because of an interest in Linux.

Making sense of scanned books

Motivation I am, as of late, frequently in receipt of PDFs containing scanned images of text from diverse sources. There are at least two things that I like to do with these PDFs: one is to optimise them for use with an ebook. I use the excellect k2pdfopt to achieve this end. The other is to OCR them for personal use, particularly for journal aricles for which the text content of PDFs is garbled to such an extent it is impossible to add highlight annotations.

New York and the Academy

It has been a great privilege of mine to have been offered a place on an integrated masters’-doctorate programme awarded by the graduate school in the arts at Columbia University in the City of New York. From this September, I will take courses in a variety of music theory and music-related topics with a focus first on tonal analysis. I’ve just spent the last week or so moving from a small town on the west coast of Ireland to the English–speaking world’s most well known metropoles.

Research Briefs

I would like to investigate the usefulness of an ‘agile’ methodology for producing academic work. The familiar mantra ‘release early; iterate often’ applies and the output is a short (and growing) “research brief” of 800-2000 words. Such an output should have all the citations and references necessary to aid the curious referee or reader and should not shy away from tackling highly-specialised problems or areas of interest within the field. The briefs should be version-controlled, publicly available and open for discussion and comment, particularly with a view to emendation or the co-ordination of a longer study which may expand upon the topics explored in the seed brief.

Notes on Walter Piston's Harmony

This week I’ve decided to revisit first and second year undergraduate harmony, this time through the lens of Walter Piston’s Harmony, a canonical “American” harmony textbook. I’ll be making my own notes and commentary as I read along and work through the exercises in a LaTeX document using a document class inspired by Edward Tufte, with musical examples created in ABCPlus (an extension of ABC notation which supports harmony and polyphony).

Neo-Riemannian Theory in music21

Here’s a script that brute-forces its way through the 24 operations on PLR space for sucessive pairs of chords in the reduction of a Bach chorale. I use a canonical name for the operation. Of course, most of these operations have homologues. The shortest label may not accurately reflect the relations between the harmonies (or so one school of thought has it). Choosing from equivalent composed operations lends an element of expressivity to NRT.