The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

R is for Rondo

Blogging A to ZToday's Blogging A-to-Z challenge post will take a look at common musical forms.

We've already seen some examples of common musical forms, even though I didn't call them out: the canon and the fugue. Both are imitative forms, though as you've seen the fugue is far more complex than the canon. "Row Row Row Your Boat" is a canon (but, of course, someone made a fugue out of it).

When we talk about other forms, we usually note large sections of music with letters. So a form of, say, A-B-A means that you have a theme first, then another theme, and then the first theme comes back.

The basic musical forms all show up in symphonies written between about 1760 and 1830, in the Classical and Early Romantic periods. Haydn codified the symphonic template, Mozart perfected it, and Beethoven took it up a notch.

The first movement of a Classical symphony usually uses sonata allegro form. It starts with an optional introduction, progresses to exposition, through development, then a recapitulation, and concludes with an optional coda. In short, A-B-A1, because the recapitulation usually doesn't strictly repeat the exposition.

The first movement of Mozart's Symphony #25 demonstrates this beautifully. The exposition starts immediately, stating the bold g-minor theme in several forms for the first 90 seconds or so. Development ensues, taking us around several related keys and themes (including the primary theme). The recap begins at 5:05, once he's brought it back to g minor. Note, also, that Mozart wrote this at 17.

Second and fourth movements often use rondo form, which is A-B-A, A-B-A-C-A, or A-B-A-C-A-B-A. The A just keeps coming around, you see. Here's Haydn's 49th symphony, second movement. It deviates from a typical classical symphony in that the second movement is fast, not slow as was common in the period. But it's a complete A-B-A1-C-A2 rondo, as well as an excellent example of the Sturm und Drang ("storm and stress") period in the late 1770s-early 1780s.

Third movements generally follow the minuet and trio form, which uses 3/4 time and a simple A-B-A or A-B-C-A form. Example: Brahms' Symphony #3, third movement. Even though Brahms wrote this decades after Mozart and Haydn had died, it still maintains the minuet and trio form—though with lusher orchestration and harmonies than either classical composer would have used.

Listen for these forms the next time you hear a symphony. They're in there.

Park #29

My official post, with photos, will appear Sunday. I just want to put a marker in the sand that tonight I went to what passed for a baseball game at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. I didn't realize that they're tearing the park down after this season because it's—wait for it—25 years old.

Really? Twenty-five years? You know Wrigley and Fenway are both over 100, right?

Whatever. This was Park #29, and apparently the Geas won't end this year because I'll have to go to Globe Life Field next year. Or maybe that will just be a coda. (You know, I've been to DFW airport about 40 times and only left it twice? Maybe I should explore.)

Anyway, photos and more commentary Sunday. Tomorrow: 4/20 in Denver.

Barr's press conference, re-imagined

The always-incisive Alexandra Petri provides a more honest view of AG William Barr's press conference yesterday:

Hello, everyone. I am here to repeat the words “no collusion” as many times as I can without sounding suspicious, but first, I would like to thank Rod Rosenstein. He is here standing behind me. He had plans to step back from public service before I came along and asked him to assist me. Then again, some would argue that by assisting me, he did not perform a public service. Anyway, he is here.

I would also like to thank Robert Mueller for making this report for me to redact. I feel like it is a joint creation between the two of us. He is not standing here with me today. Instead, there is a bearded man who, no doubt, is familiar to you all. I will certainly not introduce him at any point. I will leave his identity to your imagination! Worst-case scenario, this will just accustom you to seeing strange facts without context, something that will help you as you consume the report!

The good news is that, although the Russian government did interfere in the 2016 election with hacking and disinformation campaigns, it did not do so literally at the behest of the Trump campaign, in my opinion. Was that the opinion of the Mueller team? Who can say? But if it wasn’t, it should have been, I think. Make no mistake, Russia did interfere to help him, but this effort was just sort of a fun lagniappe. Nobody asked for it.

The Post has the full (redacted) Mueller report online. I'll be reading it on a plane today.

Q is for Quaver

Blogging A to ZToday's Blogging A-to-Z challenge post explains how musicians keep time.

Through all the examples I've posted this month, you may have noticed that a note's stem has a relationship to how long the note sounds. They do. Starting with a whole note (open, with no stem), each change to the stem reduces the length of the note by half. This also works when you start with a whole rest, except a rest means "don't do anything here." Example:

(In the UK, those notes are called whole, half, quarter, quaver, semiquaver, hemisemiquaver, and hemisemidemiquaver. Don't ask me why.)

You can also add a dot after a note, which increases the length by 50%. The dotted quarter notes in this example are the same as three 8th notes:

On the same subject, let me draw your attention to the numbers (and sometimes letters) that follow the key signature in a staff. That guy, called the time signature, tells performers how to count.

The most common time signature is 4/4. That means there are 4 beats in each measure (the top number) and the quarter note gets one beat. It's so common that it can also be represented by the letter C, as in the top example above. Sometimes you'll see a C with a line through it. This is called cut time, or 2/2, in which there are two half-note beats per measure.

The second example above shows 6/8 time, in which there are six eighth notes to each measure. Typically musicians count 6/8 as two beats per measure, with the dotted quarter getting the beat, so it feels like a march.

The time signature 3/4 has the same number of eighth notes per measure, but since the quarter note gets the count, there are three quarter-note beats per measure. This is the time signature for waltzes.

Almost any combination of beats and notes can form a time signature. I've seen 7/4, 3/16, 1/1, 9/32...literally anything as long as the bottom number is divisible by 2 (or is 1). That said, the most common time signatures by far are 4/4, 6/8, 3/4, and 2/2.

And here, for your listening enjoyment, is a piece that flouts all the rules and somehow works—as humor:

I hate Scala

"It is no one's right to despise another. It is a hard-won privilege over long experience."—Isaac Asimov, "C-Chute"

For the past three months, I've worked with a programming language called Scala. When I started with it, I thought it would present a challenge to learn, but ultimately it would be worth it. Scala is derived from Java, which in turn is a C-based language. C#, my primary language of the last 18 years, is also a C-based language. 

So I analogized thus: C# : Java :: Spanish : Italian; therefore C# : Scala :: Spanish : Neapolitan Italian. So as with my decent Spanish skills making it relatively easy to navigate Italy, and my decent C# skills making it relatively easy to navigate Java, I expected Scala to be just a dialect I could pick up.

Wow, was I wrong. After three months, I have a better analogy: C# : Scala :: English : Cockney Rhyming Slang. Or perhaps Jive. Or maybe even, C# : Scala :: German : Yiddish. That's right: I submit that Scala is a creole, probably of Java and Haskell.

Let me explain.

Most C-based languages use similar words to express similar concepts. In Java, C#, and other C-based languages, an instance of a class is an object. Classes can have instance and static members. If you have a list of cases to switch between, you switch...case over them. And on and on.

Scala has a thing called a class, a thing called an object, a thing called a case class, and a thing called a match. I'll leave discovering their meanings as an exercise for the reader. Hint: only one of the four works the same way as in the other related languages. In other words, Scala bases itself on one language, but changes so many things that the language is incomprehensible to most people without a lot of study.

Further, though Scala comes from object-oriented Java, and while it can work in an object-oriented fashion with a lot of coercion, 

As in Yiddish or Gullah, while you can see the relationship from the creole back to the dominant language, no deductive process will get you from the dominant to the creole. "Answer the dog," a perfectly valid way to say "pick up the phone" in Cockney (dog <- dog bone <- rhymes with phone), makes no sense to anyone outside the East End. Nor does the phrase "ich hab' in bodereim," which translates directly from Yiddish as "I have (it) in the bathtub," but really means "fuck it." The fact that Yiddish uses the Hebrew alphabet to express a Germanic creole only adds to its incomprehensibility to outsiders.

These are features, not bugs, of Jive, Gullah, Yiddish, and other creoles and slangs. They take words from the dominant language, mix them with a bunch of other languages, and survive in part as a way to distinguish the in-group from the out-group, where the out-group are the larger culture's dominant class.

I submit that Scala fits this profile.

Scala comes from academic computing, and its creator, German computer scientist Martin Odersky, maintains tight control over the language definition. Fast adoption was never his goal; nor, I think, was producing commercial software. He wanted to solve certain programming problems that current computer science thinking worries about. That it elevates a densely mathematical model of software design into commercial development is incidental, but it does increase the barriers to entry into the profession, so...maybe that's also a feature rather than a bug?

Scala isn't a bad language. It has some benefits over other languages. First, Scala encourages you to create immutable objects, meaning once an object has a value, that value can never change. This prevents threading issues, where one part of the program creates an object and another part changes the object such that the first part gets totally confused. Other languages, like C#, require developers to put guardrails around parts of the code to prevent that from happening. If all of your objects are immutable, however, you don't need those guardrails.

A consequence of this, however, is that some really simple operations in C# become excruciating in Scala. Want to create a list of things that change state when they encounter other things? Oh, no, no, no! Changing state is bad! Your two-line snippet that flips a bit on some objects in a list should instead be 12 lines of code (16 if it's readable) that create two copies of every object in your list through a function that operates on the list. I mean, sure, that's one way to do it, I suppose...but it seems more like an interview question with an arbitrary design constraint than a way to solve a real problem.

Second, this same characteristic makes the language very, very scaleable, right out of the box. That is actually the point: "Scala" is a portmanteau of "Scaleable" and "Language," after all. That said, C# is scaleable enough to run XBox, NBC.com, Office Online, and dozens of other sites with millions of concurrent users, so Scala doesn't exactly have a monopoly on this.

Not to mention, Scala gives frustrated Haskell programmers a way to show off their functional-programming and code-golf skills in a commercial environment. Note that this makes life a lot harder for people who didn't come from an academic background, as the code these people write in Scala is just as incomprehensible to newbies as Haskell is to everyone else.

All of this is fine, but I have developed commercial software for 25 years, and rarely have I encountered a mainstream language as ill-suited to the task of producing a working product in a reasonable time frame than this one. Because the problem that I want to solve, as a grizzled veteran of this industry, is how I can do my job effectively. Scala is making that much more difficult than any language I have ever dealt with. (There are a number of other factors in my current role making it difficult to do my job, but that is not the point of this post.)

Maybe I'm just old. Maybe I have thought about software in terms of objects with behavior and data for so long that thinking about it in terms of functions that operate over data just doesn't penetrate. Maybe I've been doing this job long enough to see functional programming as the pendulum swinging back to the 1980s and early 1990s, when the implementationists ruled the day, and not wanting to go back to those dark ages. (That's another post, soon.)

This cri de coeur aside, I'll continue learning Scala, and continue doing my job. I just really, really wish it had fewer barriers to success.

Sears sues Eddie Lampert

While waiting for the Mueller Report to download (spare a moment to pity the Justice Department's servers), an alert came in from Crain's:

The bankrupt estate of Sears Holdings Corp. sued Eddie Lampert and his hedge fund ESL Investments Inc., claiming they wrongly transferred $2 billion of company assets beyond the reach of creditors in the years leading up to the retailer’s bankruptcy.

“Had defendants not taken these improper and illegal actions, Sears would have had billions of dollars more to pay its third-party creditors today and would not have endured the amount of disruption, expense, and job losses resulting from its recent bankruptcy,” lawyers for the estate said in a court filing.

The complaint, filed as part of the retailer’s ongoing bankruptcy case, asks that the transactions be ruled fraudulent transfers and says creditors should be compensated.

Lawyers for the estate also allege that ESL stripped Sears of the real estate under 266 of the retailer’s most profitable stores, undervaluing the land by at least $649 million. “Moreover, the culpable insiders arranged for Sears to lease the properties back under blatantly unfair terms,” according to the complaint.

No kidding.

It's interesting to me how people who claim that the government has no right to interfere in private affairs seem to make that claim to avoid scrutiny of shady behavior. And Lampert seems to be one of the shadiest.

P is for Pachelbel

Blogging A to ZThis morning, my Blogging A-to-Z challenge post will discuss a composer whose music I absolutely loathe because of its insipid, simplistic, earwormy pabulum, Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706).

You have, no doubt, heard his Canon in D, which, thanks to its inclusion in an otherwise forgettable film 51 years ago, continues to besmirch weddings and other cultural events with its demonstration of what happens when you strip music down to the essentials and add nothing back. In a way, the Canon in D resembles a lot of modern music by providing nothing more than a repeating theme of such simplicity that only a performance by 3rd graders on recorder could do it justice.

So why did I include this composer in a series on music theory? Because in that simplicity is just about all popular music of the last half-century.

Here are the first few bars of the piece:

It is I-V-vi-I6-IV-I-IV-V, repeated endlessly, until someone in the audience starts yelling "Please, for the love of Dog, make it stop!" Notice that the string parts are also boring, and (because this is a canon) repetitive.

When I say it has infected music in the last 50 years, I mean it's like a staph infection that can shut down an entire hospital. Here, to make the point better than I can, is Rob Paravonian:

O is for Ornaments

Blogging A to ZThis morning's Blogging A-to-Z challenge entry will take a quick turn and possibly trill your heart with a brief overview of ornaments.

You got a glimpse of two of the most common Baroque ornaments on Saturday as the Bach snippet I posted contained a grace note and a mordent:

The grace note tells the performer to add the note within the duration of the main note. For example, the grace note in the first measure would be played out as shown in the second measure:

A mordent tells the performer to do a little flip up from the written note (or up if it's got a line through it). This example shows a mordent, then its written-out equivalent, followed by a rising mordent and its equivalent:

The turn comes up frequently as well, and does exactly what it says on the tin:

Let's not forget the trill:

If only there were a single piece of music that put all of them together brilliantly...like maybe Bach's Sinfonia #5 in Eb major, BWV 791? Why, yes:

More than €700m pledged to rebuild Notre-Dame

Yesterday's devastating fire in the Cathédral de Notre-Dame de Paris fortunately left the walls and bell towers intact. But the destruction of the fire and roof could take 10-15 years to fix, according to Le Monde. So far, corporations and other European governments have pledged over €700m ($790m, £605m) towards rebuilding it:

  • La famille Arnault a la première annoncé un "don" de 200 millions d'euros par le groupe de luxe LVMH et a proposé que l'entreprise mette à disposition ses "équipes créatives, architecturales, financières" pour aider au travail de reconstruction et de collecte de fonds ;
  • La famille Bettencourt a annoncé deux dons de 100 millions d'euros, l'un via L'Oréal et l'autre via sa fondation ;
  • La famille d'industriels Pinault, qui possède le groupe Kering, a annoncé débloquer 100 millions d'euros via sa société d'investissement Artemis ;
  • Le PDG du groupe Total, Patrick Pouyanné, a annoncé sur son compte Twitter, que le groupe, qui se présente comme le "premier mécène de la Fondation du patrimoine", allait faire un "don spécial" de 100 millions d'euros.

In the past few weeks, 9 churches in France have burned; however, the Paris Police have opened an accident investigation, suggesting they don't believe it's related. Also, firefighters appear to have saved not only the bell towers but also the grand organ:

The culture minister, Franck Riester, said religious relics saved from the cathedral, including the Crown of Thorns and Saint Louis’s tunic, were being securely held at the Hôtel de Ville, and works of art that sustained smoke damage were being taken to the Louvre where they would be dried out, restored and stored.

He said three stained-glass “rose” windows did not appear to be damaged but would be examined more closely when the cathedral was made safe. Photos from inside the monument suggest Notre Dame’s grand organ, built in the 1730s and boasting 8,000 pipes, was spared from the flames.

Sixteen copper statues that decorated the spire, representing the 12 apostles and four evangelists, had been removed for restoration only a few days before the fire. Relics at the top of the spire are believed lost as the spire was destroyed.

Still, the damage is appalling. I join with the people of France in hoping that they will be able to rebuild, even if it takes until the 2030s.

N is for Notation

Blogging A to ZToday's Blogging A-to-Z challenge post will, like yesterday's, take us back in time.

Almost every day I've shown samples of music using modern notation. Any contemporary musician should have no trouble reading them.

Almost a thousand years ago, in 1025, the monk Guido d'Arezzo decided to record music on paper in a way that would enable people to read it even if they'd never encountered it before. He used blocks on lines with stems indicating how the notes were connected, and it looked like this:

The innovation here is that the note heads convey absolute pitch, and the stems convey timing, just as they do today. Someone who has never seen this before could (if they understood the language) produce the music intended by the composer.

During the early 17th century, as instrumental music came to dominate the scene, musical notation became much more complex. By the 1620s and 1630s, scores looked almost the same as they do today.

Specialized music uses specialized notation schemes, however. And non-Western music, which may use entirely different tonalities, sometimes has entirely different ways of notation.