Archive for January, 2007


The Carolina Chocolate Drops, whom I eagerly anticipated and then enjoyed hearing, were featured on NPR‘s Weekend Edition Sunday. The segment includes interviews with Bill Ferris and Taj Mahal. Both of them came up in my last post about the Chocolate Drops. While there are enough clear similarities for them to go together, NPR should hire me or at least send me some of those public radio royalties.

In related news, I received my quills last weekend. I found maker Edmond Badoux of Chaskinakuy through Carolina Chocolate Drop Dom Flemons. So far, I have picked my way roughly through “Bull Doze Blues” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” If I make some progress learning to play, I will get and modify a harmonica neck holder. The home string band, though bigger, is now a little less of a string band.

Update January 31: Writing about another story about hip-hop on subway cars on Weekend Edition Sunday, Jesse Thorn mentioned the CCD radio piece in letter to NPR on his blog for The Sound of Young America. He posted again about the response he received. I found out about the exchange via this post on previously mentioned John Hodgman‘s blog for The Areas of My Expertise. Hodgman offered his own take in comments on Thorn’s posts and in his own post.

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Michael M. on January 31st 2007 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

Brazilian music anthology

Long-Lost Trove of Music Connects Brazil to Its Roots” in The New York Times covers a fascinating box set of Brazilian folk music being released as Musica Tradicional do Norte e Nordeste 1938. I do not think that anybody in my family has spoken Portuguese in over a century, but I am pretty sure that it translates to Traditional Music of the North and Northeast 1938. The recordings resulted from an ethnomusicological program. The Mission for Folklore Research is the accompanying site. Similar American efforts at the same time, such as the trips of often blogged Alan Lomax, yielded some favorites of mine. As American scholars headed south to explore folk cultures born from the fusion of African and European, Brazilian scholars headed north to explore folk cultures born from the fusion of African and European. I like old weird things, and I like Brazil. This music must be fantastic. The clips available in the article are enticing.

One current of music is attributed to American Indian origins, but I have to think that it is more of a confluence. The bandas de pífanos are fife and drum groups. The one band in a photograph on this Brazilian page does not look so different from American fife and drum bands. Music, though, is more about the sound. The iTunes link that includes tracks from group Bio Do Pifano leads to sounds that are not the same, but not entirely alien, either. I wonder wonder what would have happened had they been transported to Gravel Springs one 4th.

The article mentions several favorite musicians. Among them is recently blogged David Byrne and his Luaka Bop record label. The label will release What’s Happening in Pernambuco: New Sounds of the Brazilian Northeast next month. Favorite current weird musician Beck and blogged Gilberto Gil also received mentions.

The one that surprised me was fingerstyle guitar primitivist hero John Fahey. I found him through the library catalog. Hunting for Mississippi John Hurt tunes, I found “Requiem for Mississippi John Hurt” and God, Time and Causality. Fahey was a disciple of Hurt’s. He was also a collector and trader of 78s. There is some sense in learning that he also treasured this music. Fahey preserved, rediscovered, extended and created so many other things dear to me.

The mention of Gil reminded be of YouTube videos of Gilberto Gil backed by the interesting Os Mutantes performing “Domingo No Parque” (“Sunday in the Park”) here, here and here that I discovered not too long ago. Those videos look the same, but this one has different camera work. This post on Bedazzled appears to have spread the alternate version.

The last one better shows the crowd reacting negatively, especially at the beginning. This performance comes from a televised popular song competition in 1967, TV Records’ 2nd Festival of Brazilian Popular Music. At the time, many Brazilians rejected the departure by Gil and others from samba, the music Brazil had exported to the world. Many in the crowd heavy with university students hated electric guitars as implements of unwelcome North American imperialism. For Gil, the common assessment is that he had tried to write his own “A Day in the Life” whose video is here and here. He did more than imitate. The song shifts across scenes and moods with distinct musical parts. One echoes the soaring and spinning of a Ferris wheel. From the moment Gil cues the band to come back in with a nod, this performance is terrific. The Baptista brothers have wonderful gleeful looks on their faces. They know something is happening. Gil stands at the end victoriously. In reality, Gil was arrested and then exiled within a few years.

Gil and Os Mutantes came from the north of Brazil, as have many of Brazil’s famous musicians. From what I can tell, the Brazilian north resembles our South in many ways. It has a stronger African heritage and influence along with a more agrarian culture. The box set appears to be a wonderful exploration of an earlier stage that subsequently gave rise to the Brazilian popular music that spread across the globe. Although it it not clear where to obtain it. I sent an inquiry to the article’s author. I will try hard to get my hands and ears on it to devour it.

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Michael M. on January 27th 2007 in General, Music, Recorded

Pedestrian killed

I found more news about the woman I saw struck by a car last night. KSDK has this story, and STLToday has this one. The victim was 63 year old Patricia Owens of Poplar Bluff. She was pronounced dead at the hospital. From what I witnessed, I believe that she died on the street within minutes of being hit. According to news accounts, she had been visiting someone in the hospital. One report places the time near 7 PM, and the other at about 6 PM. After checking some of my records, it was closer to 6:30 PM. Safe City has the call time as 6:38 PM. I heard from friends that the intersection remained closed for several hours as police thoroughly reconstructed the accident. One friend told me that they had cameras to check what could be seen from different perspectives. When I walked through the intersection this morning, I saw orange spray paint on the pavement marking the path of the car and where it came to rest.

The intersection is awful. Its design put the pedestrian and the driver in a situation that transformed their minor mistakes into a death. Forest Park Parkway passes underneath Kingshighway and comes back to ground level just east of Euclid. Eastbound drivers on Forest Park cannot see the intersection with Euclid until they are very near it. The intersection has pedestrian crosswalks and signals with buttons for requesting to cross, but they do not work well. I have had to wait too long after pressing the button to cross. Consequently, pedestrians often tire of waiting and cross against the traffic signals, especially when it is dark or cold. Last night was both dark and cold. There are six lanes for pedestrians to cross there. The southmost one comes at ground level from Kingshighway, and it is easy for pedestrians to see oncoming traffic in this lane. The other two eastbound lanes pass under Kingshighway, and the depth of the road below ground level is enough to conceal automobiles from walkers. The car that struck Owens probably was hidden by the slope of the road until it was too late for her to avoid it. From the driver’s perspective, the rise most likely hid the pedestrians crossing against the traffic signals until she was almost to the intersection. The design led to horrible visibility that compounded the mistakes of driving too fast and crossing against the signals. The poor responsiveness of the signals to pedestrian crossing requests leads people to try to make it halfway across to the median without the light. The eastbound lanes of Forest Park Parkway do not have sufficient signs and warning lights about the upcoming intersection. The upcoming closure of I-64/40 will worsen the problems.

The city must fix this intersection immediately. Detectors must let pedestrians and vehicles traveling on Euclid pass through the intersection without such long delays. More signs and signals need to be installed on Forest Park Parkway to warn drivers that they are approaching an intersection with heavy pedestrian traffic. In time, Forest Park should be regraded and maybe rerouted completely.

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Michael M. on January 26th 2007 in General

WordPress 2.1

I upgraded to WordPress 2.1 today. I had tried unsuccessfully before. Increasing the amount of memory available for PHP scripts fixed the problem. It looks good so far. The WYSIWYG editor works well so far. Please let me know if you see anything awry here on the blog.

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Michael M. on January 25th 2007 in General

Pedestrian hit

I witnessed, although not fully, an accident involving a pedestrian and an automobile. I was walking north on Euclid near Applebee’s around 6 PM, but I do not know the exact time. I looked forward to see a car driving eastbound on Forest Park Parkway. The car, a late model tan or light brown Nissan Altima, appeared to swerve to its left. I heard a crash, and I thought the car hit the curb of the median. At the same time, I saw an older white man in a beige or tan jacket dive and roll on the pavement of the northmost eastbound lane of Forest Park Parkway. The car came to a stop, and the man got up from the ground.

Then I saw what I had missed. An older woman in dark clothing was face down in the northmost lane of eastbound Forest Park Parkway just east of the intersection. I had not seen her before, most likely because of her dark clothes. She had been struck by the car. I took out my cell phone to call 911 when I heard someone standing on the median ask whether anybody had called and another man answer that he had. When the traffic flow allowed, I crossed to the median. A black luxury sedan turned on flashing lights and blocked the lane. The Nissan had stopped east of the woman on the pavement. An older black lady got out of the car. She seemed to have been driving with no passengers.

A young woman in a long white coat who appeared to be a doctor went to the woman who had been hit. I tried to stay out of the way, but the woman who had been hit appeared to have stopped breathing. Within several minutes, an ambulance arrived from Kingshighway. Several police vehicles came soon after to secure the scene. One directed traffic, and one began talking to witnesses. Two medical students had been standing on the median when it happened. Another man I did not recognize also had witnessed the collision. The police officer had the four of us cross back to the sidewalk near Applebee’s. After taking information and accounts from the two medical students, he asked the other two of us whether we had seen the same thing. We said that we had, and he told us that we could go. I waited on the sidewalk until the emergency vehicles left. Then I crossed the Forest Park Parkway and walked here trying to collect my thoughts.

Many of the usual reports apply. It happened quickly. Although my eyes must have seen it, I did not comprehend. The woman hit was so hard to see that I did not notice her until after the collision. I thought I heard the Nissan hit the curb of the median. Upon reflection, some or all of the sound might have been the collision with the pedestrian. I had not yet checked the traffic signals when it happened, but it seems like the woman hit must have been crossing against the light. The Nissan had come from the underpass where Forest Park Parkway crosses beneath Kingshighway. The road level rises quickly, and it is difficult to see the intersection. To compound the problem, cars drive fast on Forest Park in part because it is a controlled access road west of that intersection. There should be warning lights and signs for eastbound traffic.

I feel awful for the people involved. The woman hit was terribly injured. I do not know whether she is alive. The man who seemed to be with her was clearly very upset. I did not see the driver well, but I know it is very bad for her, too. I will check the news for the next few days. It was the worst event I can remember personally witnessing.

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Michael M. on January 25th 2007 in General

I don’t watch Desperate Housewives.

I remember seeing Talking Heads music videos recorded from Friday Night Videos. They were fun. They were a little bit angular and strange. They stood out. They were windows into somewhere else. I was happy to see The New York Times publish this profile of David Byrne.

In a twist of connectedness, Byrne recently posted on his blog about visiting the twice blogged cognitive psychology laboratory of Daniel Levitin. (Off topic, Byrne titled a post about matters including an NYT article on free will “Patrimony & Free Willy.” I titled my post on another similar article “Free Willie.”) The visit must be the one mentioned in the Times article. The discussion of musical timing in the post is something I have wondered about often. How could one add jitter properly to MIDI files to make them sound more expressive? Is there some distribution of timing jitter that could be inverted to provide enhancement.

The musicians Byrne mentioned must be worth checking out, and they alone would make the article worth reading. I received Everything Is Possible! for Christmas. It was released on Luaka Bop, his record label. I also have Shuggie Otis‘ psychedelic soul album Inspiration Information. I have both volumes of Zero Accidents on the Job. I have Brazil Classics 2: O Samba, and I wish I had them all. The strange thing is that I did not find them based on the record label. When I read the article, I thought that I probably should listen to every musician mentioned in it because I probably will like them. Now I am thinking the same thing about everything on Luaka Bop.

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Michael M. on January 22nd 2007 in General, Music, Recorded

Asylums and prisons

Are prisons replacing asylums? I have wondered about this question for a while, and this article by Bernard Harcourt in The New York Times got me thinking about it again. This older article addresses the same problems. There does appear to be some relationship. Mental health facilities have shrunk as prisons have grown, and prison officials report increasing problems with mentally ill inmates. The demographics of the growing prison population, however, are different from the makeup of residential care mental health patients. More is happening than shifting people from asylums to prisons. The relationship clearly is not a simple one.

Frontline, the excellent PBS documentary series, tackled these problems in The New Asylums a few years ago. It is available via streaming video. I thought of it right away when reading the first article. Watching the ill in the throes of disease is much more shocking than reading a newspaper article.

An asylum is a much better place for a severely mentally ill person than a prison. The staff at a mental institution is better suited for such a person. Unfortunately, sending someone to an asylum does immediately appeal to the desire for toughness against crime. It seems soft. I am much more concerned, though, about the relative effectiveness against crime. Does shifting toward asylums lead to lower crime rates? My searching has yet to yield an answer. According to the second article linked above, mental institutions are more expensive than prisons while mental health clinics are less expensive. There must be a better balance to help the ill, prevent crime and reduce costs monetary and otherwise.

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Michael M. on January 21st 2007 in General, Movies

Spousal change

This article in The New York Times covers recent census findings about women and marriage. Increasingly more women live outside traditional marriage. The graph in the article does not include cohabitation, however, and I really wonder how including it would influence the numbers. According to one source, the number of unmarried men and women living together has increased 72% between 1990 and 2000. What changed? Did social objections become less common? Did formal marriage become more burdensome? What role did the possibility of divorce play? I found this article with plenty of speculation about these questions, but not much evidence. There must be more substantive ways to parse the information to assess the forces behind the changes. Maybe subsequent coverage will address them more directly.

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Michael M. on January 21st 2007 in General

Forest Park deal updated

This post on brings news of the latest proposed deal between BJC and the city on leasing Forest Park. I blogged in the fall about a previous iteration of the deal. Urban Review STL is following this news. This new deal looks less destructive, but I doubt that it will satisfy the real opposition. These bills might short-circuit the petition efforts of Citizens to Protect Forest Park by passing the deal before the matter is presented directly to the citizens. The measure circulated on the petition does not like a good remedy because it restricts the city government too much, but this latest deal, while better, still will allow the hospital to destroy part of the park. The move by the aldermen to outflank the public, if the bills really are an effort to rush negotiations, is disgusting.

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Michael M. on January 21st 2007 in General

Chemical safety

The New York Times published this article about dietary supplements and safety. I blogged over a year ago about supporting a bill to institute a reporting system for supplements. The bill seems to have bogged down in committee. This article might represent a movement to revive these efforts. A recently passed bill will require manufacturers to pass consumer reports of adverse events to the FDA.

One of the problems with the article is the lack of distinctions among chemicals. Some drugs have high rates of adverse events, and others very low. The levels of risk posed by supplements must also vary. The article names a few supplements associated with higher reporting of problems without any larger picture of which supplements are particularly dangerous and which are safe. Part of the problem arises from the law that treats vastly different chemicals the same way without regard to their activity in the human body.

We need to be able to make these distinctions. Unfortunately, we currently throw away the necessary information. Requiring reporting by manufacturers of dietary supplements and over the counter drugs is a first step. A few more are merited. Previously, companies were not required to report the information they collected. It does not appear that anyone is required to collect this information now. I hope that a next step will be a system for collecting the data. It is past time for the government to stop sanctioning willful ignorance in the name of profit. We, the consuming public, deserve the freedom to make our choices based on the best available information.


Michael M. on January 21st 2007 in General

Traditions revived and grown

I saw the highly anticipated Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Monday Club for their Childgrove Country Dancers performance. Rhiannon Giddens did not make it due to illness. I wish I had seen her with the full band at their BB’s concerts. Dom Flemons and Justin Robinson put on a great two man show in her absence. John Hotze has videos and photographs from their visit on

They convered a variety of styles rooted in African-American traditions. The biggest were straight fiddle and banjo tunes. They adapted fife and drum music to fiddle and drum. Flemons played a “Buck Dancer’s Choice” on guitar while Robinson did a buck dance. Robinson sang us an unaccompanied ballad. Flemons played “Charming Betsy,” a Henry Thomas tune, on resonator guitar and quills.

I blogged about Henry Thomas and the quills a while back. I felt really excited when I saw them come out at the concert. After the show, I went up to buy their album Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind released on Music Maker and asked about them. Flemons found his quills through Mike Seeger whom he described as “not human” in his musical ability and knowledge. Seeger got his from Edmond Badoux and recommended him to Flemons who recommended him to me. Badoux plays in the Andean music group Chaskinakuy and also makes and sells quills. I mailed my check yesterday.

Forming a referential loop, Flemons has this YouTube video of Taj Mahal performing “Ain’t That a Lot of Love” on his MySpace page. The song is terrific Stax Memphis soul, and this version does right by it. Taj Mahal’s signature song is Henry Thomas’ “Fishing Blues.” Thomas’ original features, of course, a terrific melody on the quills.

I found the short film Gravel Springs Fife and Drum available for free download while searching for fife and drum music. William Ferris, formerly of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and then the National Endowment for the Humanities, made it. Folkstreams features has many films available including several more of Ferris’ films, but not the one I saw at ciné16. Gravel Springs Fife and Drum features fife wizard Othar Turner and his Rising Star family band.

The concert left me inspired to learn the banjo. I had thought about buying a banjo or a mandolin for a while. After the show, I headed to Music Folk and bought my banjo. I used Christmas money to by a Deering Goodtime, the basic open back beginner banjo, and Clawhammer Banjo from Scratch: A Guide for the Claw-less! by Dan Levenson. Mel Bay, publisher of this and many other music instruction books, is located in Pacific, Missouri, near Saint Louis. I have been trying to frail using the book and free video lessons by Patrick Costello made in conjunction with his book The How and Tao of Old Time Banjo from Pik-Ware Publishing. In the techno-folk spirit, The How and Tao of Old Time Banjo is licensed through Creative Commons and freely available.

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Michael M. on January 18th 2007 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

Food deserts

Barlow has a link to this article from the Twin Cities about food deserts in urban areas. Some neighborhoods have poor access to groceries. I have wondered about this problem now and then. The closest grocery store to the last place I lived was a Schnuck’s at Kingshighway and Delmar. It closed. Now I mostly shop at another location of the same chain that is within two blocks of me. In terms of size, selection and freshness, it is much better than the one that closed. At the old store, I learned to check the expiration dates on what I bought after wasting my money on food that had gone bad. This probably is much less of a concern now, and the store is currently under renovations.

I used to see people walking to the old Schnuck’s. I remember seeing families on Kingshighway with each child carrying a bag or two. Having a grocery store in the neighborhood was clearly important to them. That approach does not work when a bus or a cab is necessary. I wonder what those families do now.

I also wonder about the potential impact of me and my friends on these stores. Many people I know shop exclusively at suburban stores because they are much nicer. I shop at them once in a while myself, but I remain committed to my neighborhood store. Dollars can lead to positive changes at local stores. My dietary habits are pretty poor, but I tend to opt for the better alternative of the junk I do eat. If I can get a similar product with more fiber or lower caloric density, I often do. These options often are not carried by smaller stores. When I first started shopping at the Schnuck’s I frequent now, I checked price and inventory. The prices matched other locations, but the inventory was poorer, especially when it came to healthful foods. I decided to email Schnuck’s to request that the store carry some of the things I found missing. I got a prompt reply. The manager was responsive, and I saw changes for the better on the shelves with more options for low calorie, high fiber and so on in some of the products I requested. It was almost too easy. We can help keep stores open, and we can shape their inventories to the benefit of all shoppers.

I also have lamented the lack of basic retail shopping near where I live. A shopping trip for cleaning supplies, housewares or toiletries involves a drive to another part of the city or to the suburbs. Many people rant about the big box stores. I can do it, too, but more often my complaints are about how far away they are. Buying these supplies at the drug store or the grocery store seems too expensive, but so does driving a long way to a discount department store.

When I googled “food desert,” I found plenty of dissent. Stores in poor neighborhoods often do not perform well enough financially. The Schnuck’s that closed seems to have struggled to turn a profit. I cannot tell whether there is a profitable way to sell good food in poor neighborhoods. In the meantime, I will continue supporting my local store on the border of affluence and poverty with my meager dollars.

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Michael M. on January 14th 2007 in General

Another verse

On the American Routes radio program, Nick Spitzer mentioned From Where I Stand on a recent show about the blurry lines between blues and country. There is a good interview with favorite Charley Pride available from the show’s site. These questions of race and music continue swirling in my mind. The show was just right for me. I blogged twice about the boxed set in recent months, and I have enjoyed listening to it. It was good to hear it receive some well-deserved attention.

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Michael M. on January 14th 2007 in General, Music, Recorded

Abling access

Via this Arch City Chronicle post, I read this article in The New York Times about 6 North. Six North Coffee is on the first floor. I have tried to visit it, but my timing is always off. The building looks quite good, and the apartments were built for universal access. I am happy to read that it works well, too.

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Michael M. on January 14th 2007 in General

Brain music

In this recent post, I pointed to an article about music and the brain. The same researcher, Daniel Levitin, popped up in this post on Amazon Earworm‘s Blog. I am having some computer problems currently, but I hope to listen to the podcast with Levitin soon.

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Michael M. on January 14th 2007 in General, Music, Recorded

Air Florida Flight 90

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the Air Florida Flight 90 crash into the Potomac River. I remember when it happened because my father told me that a second cousin, one I do not think I ever met, was involved. This post on Language Log tells how the crash changed the culture of flight crews. The Washington Post has this article about where some of the people involved are today. The Society for Neuroscience conference in 2005 got me thinking about it again. The Metrorail line crosses the river near the crash site, presumably. I researched the crash after returning from the meeting. There are two big stories. Some terrible errors led to the crash, and they should have been prevented at many points. Since then, many strides have been made in safety. The other story is the people who stepped forward to help and their subsequent treatment. The television movie made was quite exploitive. I remember my father pointing out the character representing my cousin in his brief appearance when the movie aired. The media and politicos also used the event and the people. It is a good time to reflect on disasters and their functions in our culture.


Michael M. on January 14th 2007 in General, Movies

Here and there

This post on Language Log shows how complicated simple grammar can be. Choosing among “There’s, “There is” and “There are” based on the number of a sentence’s subject can get hairy. The post focuses on the subject “a bunch of” somethings. I had hoped that “a lot of” would be mentioned, too, but it was not. The topic subsequently garnered another post. There is a lot of things to think about within this subject although I have trouble seeing what insight the inquiry yields. All choices seem to convey the same meaning.

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Michael M. on January 14th 2007 in General

Daytime omen

According to this story on /., there is a comet currently visible in the daytime. It is far too overcast to see it here. In the comments, I read that it may be too late for us in the northern hemisphere to see it in the daytime. Casual astronomy is fun. I wish I had known sooner.

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Michael M. on January 14th 2007 in General

The WØRD is Missouri.

The Colbert Report featured Missouri a few nights ago on the WØRD segment. The video is up. This post on the Riverfront Times STLog also picked up on it.

Colbert pegged a few truths in the segment. Saint Louis loves the Cardinals and Ozzie Smith. Many people will recall games from decades ago with astonishing detail and the least prompting. Anheuser-Busch does permeate the culture.

The final proposal was replacement of Missouri with Texas. Both are among the few states in which I have lived. Each has a lot to offer with political and cultural diversity, fantastic educational institutions and generally friendly people although these characteristics are often less than immediately obvious. Colbert’s bit plays off the stereotypes of the two, but in a fun way.

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Michael M. on January 12th 2007 in General

Two greats

I found two great tastes that taste great together. No, not nuts and gum. I found “Music of the Hemispheres” in The New York Times. It combines two of my favorite things, music and neurobiology. So far, the scientific questions I like have not involved music, and I do not see any intersections on my horizon. It could be a delightful mix, though.

I did wonder about Steven Pinker‘s remarks in the article. I have little more idea what music does than I do what sleep does. I have a hard time putting much stock into the evolutionary hypotheses about its functions. Pinker’s position only makes me wonder about the chances that he cannot carry a tune or play an instrument.

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Michael M. on January 2nd 2007 in General, Music

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.