Never enter a musical contest with a god

Marsyas being flayed by ApolloMinerva, goddess of the mind, war and music, invents the aulos, a type of double-pipe reed, but when the other gods make fun of her for the way it makes her cheeks bulge, she throws it away. The satyr Marsyas finds it and becomes a skillful player. He challenges Apollo to a contest, to be judged by the Muses, but naturally he is defeated by Apollo, who then flays Marysas alive for his hubris. The myth suggests the superiority of the orderly, refined music of the stringed lyre over the sounds of the countryside played by a nature spirit (the superiority of culture over country). For the Pythagoreans (6th century BC), the lyre did indeed embody harmony that could be broken by the shrill tones of the aulos. Pliny, in the first century AD, describes how a painting of Marsyas being flayed was displayed in a temple as a warning of what happens to those who disturb the social order. Continue reading →

The mystery of Orpheus

Orfeo ed Euridice (Cervelli)The myths associated with the musician Orpheus are some of the best known of the Greek and Roman myths. But underlying the various versions of the myth are contradictions, or complementary opposites, that make Orpheus the uniter of dualities. Orpheus is son of Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry, and the ancient Thracian king Oeagrus. Apollo teaches him to play the lyre as a child. His legendary singing and musical skill moves stones and trees and calms wild beasts. Jason recruits Orpheus to join the Argonauts in the quest for the Golden Fleece, because Orpheus will be able to silence the beautiful singing of the Sirens so the ship can safely pass without being lured onto the rocks. Continue reading →

Sound art: is it music?

Zimoun's "Wall of Sound"There is no consensus on the definition of sound art. At best, one can say it occurs at the intersection of conceptual art, sound and music. Whether or not it qualifies in all instances as “music,” it uses musical elements — pitch, rhythm, texture, dynamics — in an expressive way. (Interestingly enough, rap music arouses a parallel debate.) Personally, I don’t think we need to get hung up on labels. The bottom line is: what is the individual trying to express, and how well does he/she succeed? Sound and music are really two faces of the same entity, like the god Janus. In fact, as I’ve tried to express in my collection of stories “Song of Fire,” music is an organic element of the universe. There is just interesting music, and not-so-interesting music. Below is a list of some artists who work with sound and associated resources. Continue reading →