After several days of financial angst and counter-terrorism, I made time today to attend two musical interludes at the Aspen Ideas Festival that I found to be very restorative.
“The Global Breadth of Cuban Music” featured Orlando “Maraca” Valle and his band in a session that was part lecture, part concert. Integral parts of the Cuban sound, particularly rhythm, were explained and demonstrated. The main unit of rhythm is the clave, with song forms like son, rumba, and timba all having different claves, each admitting of many variations and embellishments. The audience was encouraged the clap the basic figure while instrument upon instrument layered on pattern after pattern, until it was hard to tell where the bars began or ended. The sheer complexity and ingenuity of the resulting structure was exhilarating, making you want to laugh out loud. Musicians tend to be capable in many instruments, so the rotation of band members can add yet another layer of richness to the proceedings.
“School of Rock” by Graeme Boone (part professor, part DJ) took us on a lightning tour through the world of rock ’n’ roll, from the Beatles to Nirvana to Danger Mouse and beyond. Taking syncopation from jazz, scales from the blues, and even discords from modern classical music, rock ’n’ roll went through a modernist period of innovation in the 50s and 60s that ultimately settled into a ‘common practice’, albeit with disruptive excursions, such as punk rock, which attempted to break the mold. We are now living in a post-modern period in which remixes, re-recordings and multiple directions seem to be the norm. Music is as likely to be created using a computer, rather than by wrestling with a real instrument, thanks to technological advances in music software, giving composers a richer palette of sounds, timbres and textures than ever before.
These two sessions reminded me how essential music is to the human soul, or at least to my soul.
Peter Jackson is chief scientist and vice president of Thomson Reuters, where he’s been since 1995. He has built a group of 40 research staff with expertise in the areas of document search, text and data mining, and machine learning. Jackson is also responsible for university collaboration with respect to joint research projects. His most recent book, Natural Language Processing for Online Applications, came out in a second edition in 2007. From 1992 to 1995, Jackson taught post-graduate classes in artificial intelligence and parallel computing at Clarkson University in New York and was a visiting professor at Singapore Polytechnic. In 1988, he moved to the US and became a principal scientist at McDonnell Douglas Research Laboratories. Before coming to the US, he taught in the Department of Artificial Intelligence at Edinburgh University from 1983 to 1988 and wrote the textbook Introduction to Expert Systems.