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Prize-Winning Clarinetist is Machine

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Linux-powered clarinet playing robot wins international prize

Entire computer-driven orchestras not too far away, says NICTA's chief technology officer

By Andrew Hendry
ComputerWorld

A team of experts and students from NICTA and the University of NSW have won first place in a major international technology competition for developing a robotically operated, computer-driven clarinet running Linux.

Developed over the last eight months, the automated clarinetist beat a Dutch developed guitar playing robot to the top gong in the Artemis Orchestra competition, thanks to its playing ability and the high level of complexity in its mouthpiece design.

Head of the project, NICTA's Dr John Judge, described the robot as an embedded computer system connected via specially constructed electronics to actuators – brass plungers with rubber nylon feet – that control the keys and mouthpiece of the clarinet.

Read more about this at the ComputerWorld website:

   http://www.computerworld.com.au/index.php/id;277215722

Wine and Music

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Wine & Music

Music 'can enhance wine taste'

BBC News

Playing a certain type of music can enhance the way wine tastes, research by psychologists suggests.

The Heriot Watt University study found people rated the change in taste by up to 60% depending on the melody heard. The researchers said cabernet sauvignon was most affected by "powerful and heavy" music, and chardonnay by "zingy and refreshing" sounds. Professor Adrian North said the study could lead retailers to put music recommendations on their wine bottles. The research involved 250 students at the university who were offered a free glass of wine in exchange for their views.

Brain theory

Four types of music were played - Carmina Burana by Orff ("powerful and heavy"), Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky ("subtle and refined"), Just Can't Get Enough by Nouvelle Vague ("zingy and refreshing") and Slow Breakdown by Michael Brook ("mellow and soft"). The white wine was rated 40% more zingy and refreshing when that music was played, but only 26% more mellow and soft when music in that category was heard.

Read more about this at the BBC News website:

   http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7400109.stm

Classical Music is for Babies

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Babies listening to classical music

Can't get it out of my head

A father's yearlong quest to grasp the infant musical mind

By Jeremy Eichler
The Boston Globe

I've never felt so paralyzed standing before my CD collection as the day I brought my newborn son home from the hospital and decided to play him his very first music. So much was at stake. Should it be modern or Baroque? Orchestral or opera? Would Mozart make him smarter? Would Schoenberg instill in him revolutionary tendencies? Would Wagner make him loathe his Jewish roots?

I settled on Bach's "Art of Fugue" in an arrangement for string quartet. Why not begin at the summit, and what's more, I imagined, all that searching counterpoint would be like honey for the infant brain. He responded with aplomb, conveying his wise, wordless mastery of the material by slipping into an eyes-closed, meditative state. OK, he fell asleep.

But my yearlong quest to understand the infant musical mind had begun. As it turns out, my timing was good, as the cognitive and neuroscience research on music has been exploding these days, driven by techno logical breakthroughs in brain imaging and a newly widespread openness toward music as a legitimate field of scientific study. It's hard to miss the reverberations. Keith Lockhart has been outfitted with sensors on the podium of Symphony Hall; Oliver Sacks's "Musicophilia" has brought strange tales of musical obsession to the bestseller list; the journal Nature has been running a nine-part essay series on the science of music; and a conference this weekend at Tufts University is convening more than 100 researchers from 13 countries to discuss the subject of "Music, Language, and the Mind." The art form that Claude Lévi-Strauss once dubbed "the supreme mystery of the science of man" is, one note at a time, becoming less mysterious.

Read more about this at The Boston Globe website:

   http://www.boston.com/ae/music/articles/2008/07/12/cant_get_it_out_of_my_head/

Funeral Music

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Songs in the key of death

Edward Wickham on how modern tastes in funeral music owe it all to a medieval composer who went out in style
Guardian UK

Even if it is an urban myth, it deserves retelling. A bereaved family requested Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody for their loved one's funeral service. A CD was duly played, but the organist allowed it to run on to the next track: Another One Bites the Dust. This is up there with another, perhaps mythical, occasion when an organist misinterpreted a couple's request for "the theme tune from Robin Hood" and, instead of playing Bryan Adams's (Everything I Do) I Do It for You from the Kevin Costner film, launched into this bracing lyric from another era: "Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen."

Choice of funeral music dates us just as surely as clothes or what children's programmes you remember with affection. One of the UK's current favourites, according to a recent survey, is Monty Python's Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. The well-balanced funeral or memorial service will, of course, provide an opportunity for both celebration and seriousness: there is a place for Monty Python and Monteverdi. And the best composers of funeral music can turn on a sixpence. Purcell's apparently simple Funeral Sentences masterfully moves from melancholy to hope in just a couple of chord changes.

Read more about this at The Guardian website:

   http://music.guardian.co.uk/classical/story/0,,2282432,00.html

Learning To Be An Elitist

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Snob Ven Diagram

How to be a classic snob

Learning the tricks behind having a snotty attitude about orchestral music.

By Joel Stein
Los Angeles Times

Afew years ago, I began working toward my retirement goal of being an intolerable old man. I'm way ahead of schedule on knowing enough about wine to bore anyone, but classical music has proved much more difficult, largely because no matter how much you listen, it does not get you drunk.

But because my cultural 401(k) depends on being able to cite conductors, orchestras and recording years, I called David Moore, a bassist for the L.A. Philharmonic, and asked him to get me on the road to insufferability. Moore met me at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and said that, like me, he got into classical music late – in his case at USC, where he started out majoring in jazz, which he discovered by getting into guitar solos in Rush and Iron Maiden songs. New York is the center of high culture because its orchestra members keep these kinds of things secret.

Read more about this at the L.A. Times website:

   http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-stein23-2008may23,0,1045111.column

Are Robots the Future of Conducting?

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Honda's Asimo Robot

DSO led by robot maestro

Asimo nails waltz with lifelike skill

By Mark Stryker
Detroit Free Press

If this keeps up Leonard Slatkin, the new music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, might be out of a job before he starts his tenure.

Asimo, Honda's humanoid robot, made its conducting debut Tuesday at Orchestra Hall, leading the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in "The Impossible Dream" of Broadway fame.

Let's say right away that the display was a technological marvel and as cool as all get-out. But it was conducting in only the most limited definition. In other words, Slatkin's job is safe, and Asimo shouldn't quit its day gig.

Which is not to pooh-pooh the achievement. Asimo – which stands 4-foot-3, weighs 119 pounds and favors a white jump suit rather than black tie – walked confidently on stage, waved and said in a high chirp, "Hello, everyone!"

An engineer cued Asimo wirelessly. It lifted its arms and gave the downbeat, conducting waltz time with fluid, lifelike gestures. It deliberately slowed down for the big finish, shifting into 6/8 time and ending with a dramatic held note. Bravo!

Read more about this at the Detroit Free Press website:

   http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2008805140432

Music to Alien Ears

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Bach's music could be key to speaking with aliens

By Kim Skornogoski
Great Falls Tribune

No offense to John Williams, Chester composer Philip Aaberg has his own ideas for what Yoda's theme music would be.

Earlier this month, Aaberg shared his theory with scientists, anthropologists, computer illustrators and science fiction writers as the keynote speaker at three-day conference at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Bay Area.

Should a giant, glowing space ship create a real-life close encounter with a third kind, Aaberg thinks our best chances to communicate with aliens is to play Bach.

"It transcends what a human being can do in terms of the brilliance of it," he said.

Read more about this at the Great Falls Tribune website:

http://www.greatfallstribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080429/NEWS01/804290311/1002

Moonlight & Milk

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Chinese farmer plyaing Beethoven for his Watermelons

Milk-treated watermelon to quench thirst

China Internet Information Center

Ever think about eating a cool, refreshing slice of sweet watermelon with the delicious flavor of milk on a hot summer day?

Beijingers will be able to get their fill when milk-treated watermelons hit local markets in early summer, according to a report in the Beijing Morning Post.

Wang Hanliang, dubbed the "Melon King" of Panggezhuang village in the Daxing district of Beijing, has discovered a new way to grow watermelons by irrigating them with fresh milk and playing the music of Beethoven, the report said.

Read more about this at the China Internet Information Center website:

   http://www.china.org.cn/environment/news/2008-04/14/content_14948410.htm

Auto Interpretation

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Bill Milbrodt

Car Parts Orchestra

The man who turned a family hatchback into a 30-piece touring band

Jasper Rees
The Telegraph

Part of the signature of a car is the sound made by its engine.

If pressed, even the most L-plated among us could probably identify a Rolls by its self-satisfied purr, or a Ferrari by its neurotic throat-clearing. But the most fanatical of petrolheads would struggle to discern, in the ambient jazzy backing to Alesha Dixon's new iTunes download, For You I Will, the snappy hatchback sound of the new Ford Focus.

The advertising industry's reverence for the tangential uses of disembodied cars is a fairly recent phenomenon. In 2003, the award-winning commercial for the Honda Accord fashioned the car's entrails into a hypnotically complicated mechanism. In 2006 a large choir of human voices imitated the clunks and whirs of a Honda Civic. The new ad for the Focus goes a step further, and puts car parts to musical use.

The Car Parts Orchestra consists, among others, of a weirdly bent flute, a bonnet recycled as a gong, a wheel-rim drum kit with gearknob for pedal stick and, the pièce de résistance, a double bass whose body takes the bulging form of a bumper, with a neck made from a roof support, which can be either plucked or bowed with a windscreen wiper.

Read more about this including video interviews with composer Craig Richey and inventor Bill Milbrodt at the Telegraph website:

   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2008/03/15/bmcarpart115.xml

Musick has Charms to Sooth

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Sleeping Dog

New classical CD aimed at calming dogs

By Amy Hollyfield ABC 7 News

Classical music can often calm our heart rate down in traffic, but can it also affect our dogs? A music teacher in Half Moon Bay has just released a new CD specifically targeting out of control canines.

The call of the wild isn't always welcomed indoors. You can't exactly tell that to Sanchez and his friends, but what if music can call the wild right out of them?

Music teacher Lisa Specter accidentally discovered that certain kinds of music she played seemed to bring the energy level down a notch in the dogs she was pet sitting, and also in her very energetic yellow lab.

"I noticed that when I played the piano and when I played certain kinds of music, that he would slow down, lie down and go to sleep within a very short period of time," said Lisa Specter, creator and composer.

She started leaving the music on when she left Sanchez home alone, and he never ate another pair of diamond earrings or destroyed parts of her piano again. Until one day when she couldn't find her CD and tried some different music.

"It was still slow and I thought 'oh this will work, it's really ok,' and I came back and pillows were torn apart and tissues from the trash were all over the place. He was not a happy dog," said Lisa Specter.

Now she realized she was on to something. So she took her discovery and her questions to psycho acoustic sound researcher Joshua Leeds. Four different CDs and 150 dogs later they zeroed in on the music that can calm our canines.

Read more about this at the KGO/ABC 7 News website:

   http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local&id=6005162

Trumpet