Acid Rain vs. Acid Jazz

News, weather, and sports. It’s the holy trinity of today’s media. Weather is universal. You don’t have to know anything about batting averages or Shi’a-Sunni relations to fully appreciate a beautiful spring day. To some extent, weather is the great leveler. It affects people in more or less the same way, i.e. nobody enjoys being cold and wet for long periods of time. A miserably gray, rainy day can trigger a collective mood that’s almost palpable in the air and on the faces of passersby. Recently, the effects of especially violent weather patterns have been hogging the spotlight in this journalistic three-ring circus. Of course, there’s always some conservative religious leader out there ready to blame it all on God’s wrath towards Ellen Degeneres. Just goes to show, weather actually does affect culture. If a radical global weather shift occurred, would the Irish sense of humor survive in a tropical climate?

In a way, music’s emotional impact is a lot like the weather, albeit an easily escapable microclimate. Good thing, too. Imagine being hit with a case of musical affective disorder or using a special edition of the Farmers’ Almanac to plot the particularities expected from your next crop of compositions. But come to think of it, weather metaphors proliferate in music, from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons to Nicolas Reeves’s Cloud Harp. Even ancient cultures once used music and dance to induce rain. My guess is this practice doesn’t happen much these days. Hey, any composers out there willing to run with this? I’d love to hear an invocation of any sort of weather by Maria de Alvear. She seems sufficiently in touch with Mother Nature. Now, if we can just convince The Weather Channel to fund a few commissions.

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2 thoughts on “Acid Rain vs. Acid Jazz

  1. Chris Becker

    At the following link http://www.wwoz.org/benefits.php
    you can see a list of music concerts across the U.S. that are hoping to raise funds for the victims of hurricane Katrina. Some are in New York – although except for the upcoming NY Phil concert, I have yet to see the “new music” community (a very broad term, I grant you) stepping up to help raise some money for those who lost so much this past month.

    In addition to providing the link I simply wanted to put it out there that musicians everywhere might want to consider how our culture took a serious hit particularly given the damage suffered in New Orleans. I know many are – I’ve spoken to several musicians who have never been to New Orleans and they are expressing genuine concern and at times a new curiosity about the breadth of culture to be found in that part of the country.

    Full disclosure. I lived in New Orleans for five years, got married there, and then relocated to NYC. Much of my work as a composer has utilized musicians from New Orleans. And unfortunately, many of my friends who used to live in New Orleans have suffered much loss as a result of Katrina.

    Thanks,

    Chris

    Reply
  2. sgordon

    I would imagine in the post-Katrina onslaught of works dedicated to the victims and inspired by the events we’ll hear a bit of what Randy’s looking for. Lots of violent, swirly string passages that sound cribbed from Night on Bald Mountain to represent storm winds and other such obvious things. Fortunately for the composers most such works are relatively critic-proof since no one wants to knock them, just in case it’s really good intentions and not shameless exploitation / self-promotion at work.

    That said…

    Every now and then I come across something inspired by weather, though admittedly I don’t take any more note of it than I would, say, works inspired by gardening tools or musical representations of 18th century wainscotting. So I can’t quite remember them all. There was a piece at Engine 27 I saw (well, heard…) by Andrea Polli that involved the sonification of storm data that was wicked cool. I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting. That one stands out.

    I think there’s still “weather music” (for lack of a better term) out there. Myself, I have one work that at first I intended only to be listened to indoors on a rainy day (why, if you live in my neighborhood, today would be perfect!) but in the end decided to leave instruction-free. It’s not necessarily representative of inclement weather, just meant to complement it – or perhaps be complemented by it. YMMV. Then again, another piece of mine I convinced myself was optimally listened to only in an apartment with the muddy rumble of an upstairs neighbor playing Slayer’s Reign In Blood just loud enough that you can hear it too. Of course people’s floors are made from all different sorts of things, filtering and dispersing the sound differently, and the listener may not be so lucky as to have someone who conveniently listens to Reign in Blood twenty-three times a week living above them. So that proved problematic, from a marketing standpoint…

    Seth

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