Euston, we have a problem…

I like the London Underground.


Surprisingly, Alsatians are the world’s only venomous canine. The male possesses a poison spur on their back legs. Though rarely fatal, it can incapacitate an adult human.

Hailing as I do from Brisbane, where the train network is fundamentally sadistic, one soon develops an acute sense of fear relating to the reliability of the service. There, it is apparent there is a literal “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy relating to train failures, and a half hour journey can quickly grow into a four hour upwards ordeal while lumbering replacement buses are rounded up to wind themselves along the winding backstreets of the outer Brisbane suburbs. One learns the meaning of term ‘languish’ from the experience.

Verily, even if nothing goes wrong the bleak infrequency of literally every train line makes it costly to miss, (emotionally mainly). Between services fierce Alsatians are released upon those still on the platform who didn’t make the train in order to thin the numbers and discourage future tardiness.

They know the deal

Die in open air, the way nature intended. Ask your Druggist about Rat Bis=Kit today! IT’S PACKED IN BOXES!

The London Underground, for all its faults, is a fascinating creature. Two years since I first met it and it is still a pure joy to invariably have only two minutes to wait at most between trains and I always raise an eyebrow at the businessmen who come bounding down the escalators. They fling themselves wildly like a rat on a biscuit at the people-mass crowded into carriages, rather than wait a minute for the next train already approaching. It’s like a freaking conveyor belt, so calm yourselves!

In any case, I’ve wondered with all the stations so close together and with the time it takes to get from the street to the platform, at what distance it becomes faster and cheaper to walk. Furthermore, factoring in the fare costs saved (as well as when delays are in effect), there should be a rough solution to be found.

Some Assumptions:

  • £6.31/h is the UK minimum wage
  • £2.10 – Zone 1 (Oyster Card) trip on the Underground (£4.50 for a single ticket)
  • I’ll make walking speed 6km/h (5km/h is average but you technically need to do fast walking to equate to moderate exercise).
  • Time to get between the street and a station (a rough guess that varies considerably) 2 mins.
  • Time waiting for a train 2 mins.

So. Those are the values. So basically by choosing to walk and not paying a fare, you are effectively getting paid to walk, thus reducing the time-saving nature of the tube.

At a basic level by not paying £2.10 you are buying yourself 19 minutes and 58 seconds of walking time at minimum wage. This is 1996.83 metres!

Seriously. They will even die trying to seek water. It must not happen!

Seriously. They will even die attempting to seek water. It must not happen!

Okay, so that’s almost two kilometres. But remember, by not even going to the station you are saving a little more time. Lets combine the time it takes to get down there and up again and also the waiting time as 6 minutes total (at a rough conservative estimate of course, it depends on station layout). This costs £0.631.

That extra cost saved expands your walking range to 2596.86 metres!! (Taking 25 minutes and 58 seconds to complete)

Also, underground trains travel at an average of 33km/hour which also costs time (though about 5.5 times less than walking). Taking that into account costs £0.0191 per minute relative to walking. This will often be quite negligible and depends on where you want to travel to, but follows an exponential equation.

In the instance above it should take the train about 4.72 minutes to travel the distance you walked (£0.069). This allows for another 65.59 metres of walking. (2662.45 metres!) This additional walking distance buys you another 8.38 seconds for the train to catch up but lets not bother.

Zone 1 MapWith the above diagram; move the blue dot (and shaded red area) to wherever you are and if the station you intend to travel to is within the red outer circle you are financially and time effectively better off walking. Another way to look at it might be that if you’re going vertically in Zone 1 it’s usually cheaper to walk.

A few notes:

  • For delays: Add 31.67 metres for each minute. For instance if there are 10 minute delays on a line, your maximum radius expands another 316.67 metres.
  • If you need to change lines: (say another 5 mins involved including waiting) add another 833 metres to your radius per change required.
  • If you rather enjoy walking vigorously everywhere and cancelled your £40/month gym membership: (that you happened to be using to get your 2.5 hours of moderate exercise a week) the resultant savings add about 1664 walking metres per day.
  • THUS: If you saved on exercise costs and had a line change in your intended route you can walk 5200 metres more efficiently overall than if you used the London Underground (basically the diameter of the original red circle instead of the radius).
  • This would: likely spill over into Zone 2 which would automatically give you another 665 metres due to the increased fare.
  • Finally: if you brought a ticket (£4.50) instead of an Oyster card, you could walk 4734 metres (and that’s just the base figure).

The London Underground Logo. I drew this left handed? Can you believe I’m not left handed?

There you go. I like the London Underground.

P.S. This is my 50th blog post!

On The Concept of Postman Pat

I mentioned the Improvisation on the Concept of Postman Pat a couple of posts ago and I think it deserves a little more of a mention/explanation as it’s a thoroughly remarkable piece. While the main performance went un-recorded in my rare and baffling observance of institutional rules, there was some rehearsal footage that survived (below). This one is a fragment from the second parcel.

But first … or second, to recap:

“The piece was ‘written’ by Brisbane percussionist Cameron Kennedy – a musical innovator and performer of rare humour and intellect. It was first entirely improvised for mixed percussion by Cameron at the 2010 Australian Percussion Gathering, and he wrote down the instructions at the request of Hugh Tidy, who performed that ‘version’ in 2011. Cameron then revised and expanded the instructions for this recital to incorporate the piano as the primary instrument.”

And so, dear reader, it is essentially a structured improvisation… on the concept of Postman Pat. And while it is entirely permissible for the original theme song to crop up thence and whence, (and it deliberately opens quoting said material), the postal element of the piece lies more in it’s structure – short individual ‘parcels’ featuring specific spoken fragments from the episode “Postman Pat and the Cranky Cows” (complete with various British accents) and a set of guidelines for each segment’s musical parameters. Thus involved are the emphatic shouting of things such as:

“Would you look at that Dorothy… They’ve started on me broccoli now!”

“The sheep have taken a liking to our green vegetables, Pat.”

“Is there a postman in the house?”

… all while manipulating electronic delay, a percussion battery of very flexible instrumentation and two or more pianos; one prepared in a rather germane* fashion (germane?! Oh no, I’ve become my supervisor!) with a copy of the very program note describing the piece.

My favourite instruction was from the somewhat liberal “Cameleoparcel:”

Mentally identify a member of the audience and create a musical representation of what you imagine their life to have been like thus far.

"Well that's the Ted Glenn Automatic Sheep Disperser"

“Well that’s the Ted Glenn Automatic Sheep Disperser”

And that’s the great thing about the Postman Pat: the hyper-flexible and practical approach it lends to performance: There are no wrong notes or musical decisions, at worst just unconvincing ones. Whether or not it will go down well with an audience is another thing, but ultimately that is down to the performer. In any case, many thanks are due to Cameron for the fantastic music/concept.

*appropriate or relevant. I learn one new word a year and that was 2012’s.

Mai Tai Suggest…

Gathering round.

Gathering round.

Gather round/around children.

It is time to reveal two of the more thoroughly terrible cocktails I’ve invented over the years. They were un-inspired by the rather arbitrary and heavily formulaic Drinkify website, which apparently ‘matches’ music with alcoholic beverages by generating random ingredients and putting your search term in “Quotation marks” with a “The” in front of it purported as the drink’s name.

It appears almost all classical composers are recommended to be listened to with a glass of “Their Name” – the sole ingredient of which is almost invariably red wine, aka “The Ludwig Van Beethoven,” “The Gustav Mahler” or “The Arnold Schoenberg.” One wise exception they did seem to make was “The Franz Joesph Haydn,” which is a cup of water. To be served ‘neat’ for the more adventurous.

Anyway. I made some of my own creations in this similarly randomly-generated manner, preserving the recipes for posterity.

Exotic Cocktail Inventions:

“The Battery Hen” … “A delightfully acidic and perplexing combination of ingredients that look much better on paper than in a glass. It will get you intoxicated, but takes the more direct, uncomfortable route through the poorly-regulated poultry slaughterhouse of jarring distastefulness in the open-air rickshaw of regret.”


When worlds collide…


-45ml Vodka

-45ml Gin

-Laughably inexpensive Champagne

-Any lime-flavoured carbonated beverage.

To Build: Combine all at once and serve in whatever comes to hand as long as the containers don’t match when making two or more. (You may mix in an egg for protein as a breakfast substitute).

“Sex with Einstein on the Beach” … “Close your eyes and take yourself back to the 1940s. You’re on a romantic beach at sunset, but something’s wrong. You look at your drink. It’s all fuzzy and you don’t feel comfortable. There are weird bits all up in it and ‘is it even alcoholic?’ you cry. You can’t really tell, but you do know the glass doesn’t seem to be getting any emptier, no matter how much progress you’ve made.”


Have a relatively good time.


-45ml Gin

-Creamed coconut

– Some actual double cream

– A half-hearted attempt at procuring pineapple juice, whether this be from the leftovers from the can of pineapple you opened two weeks ago, to a juice or any liquid that may have ‘had pineapple in it’ as a minor ingredient or artificial flavouring.

To Build: The proportions don’t really matter (mostly juice though) just give the cream time to congeal and give it all a good shake to get the coconut floating around. Serve warm and under poor lighting.

Que Sol-fa, Sol-fa

Solfa and Solfege, or more accurately Sol-fa and Solfège, are the names of the two sides, teams and/or factions currently participating in one of the more one-sided conflicts in musical history. The Sol-fa-ites relentlessly wage a bitter and furious campaign of condemnation upon the peace-loving Solfege community, fuelled possibly and probably by feelings of inadequacy and also the fervour of their revered Hungarian forebears ringing in their ears. This post … I write this post not only in defence of the Solfegers, but in offence at the Sol-fa-ites, those fanatical zealots (as opposed to your indifferent, garden-variety zealots).

This is neither

The conflict is fundamentally between the fixed (Solfege) and the moveable (Solfa) Do (pronounced dough), yet even the spelling of Do (Doh for solfa) cannot be agreed upon. While both parties have distant medieval origins over this note-naming, fixed Do grew naturally and gradually out of this system, while the moveable version began abruptly as the musical love-child of Sarah Ann Glover and John Curwen. Before we go further let’s discuss what it’s all about:

What is a ‘Do’?

Well dear reader, that is the crux of the pickle. In fixed Do, the pitch of C is Do. In moveable Do, any pitch that is the tonic of the key is Do. Are you stirred into a rage by one of these options? If so congratulations – you are a Sol-fa-obsessed, irrational extremist. Don’t care? Fixed Do it is then.

Why does it matter?

Well dear reader, it all comes down to what you want to use it for. And by that I must add the disclaimer that most well-adjusted musicians never really find, or indeed look for, any practical use for such knowledge beyond passing it on.


If you use Solfege (fixed), it allows a simple and rapid singing of syllables – like reading note names but better – as opposed to saying “C sharp, E flat, D natural etc.” It does make singing relative intervals a little less conducive if the piece isn’t in C, so for instance, you’d probably have to know what a major 7th up from the So (G) sounds like if the piece was in G Major.

If you use Sol-fa (moveable), well this automatically takes care of it – if G was Do the major 7th interval is Do-Ti rather than So-Fi in fixed. But.


Most of the fiercest advocates of Sol-fa are those who learn in schools that base their teaching on Bartok and Kodály – particularly the latter’s method. I cannot but gaze like a puffin at the cumquat of irony that these (relatively mildly) modernist composers, who were alive and writing at the cusp of significant, irrevocable changes in tonal theory in the early 20th century, became representatives of the fundamentally tonal movable Do system. It’s as though they invented a car that runs exclusively on blue whale fat, and said invention becomes wildly and bafflingly popular. Soon, the proponents are spending all their time hooning around and shouting obscenities at the Solfege citizens in their electric hybrids, blissfully unaware that their fuel supply and cars are both about to come to a complete standstill.


But. Moveable Do becomes starkly meaningless when there IS NO TONIC. C will always be C, so fixed Do is permanent – indeed all the chromatic notes are accounted for Do, Di, Re, Ri etc, and there’s room for microtones if you care inordinately. But moveable Solfa is self-limiting. Do you pick a random note if there is no Do? Why not choose C by default (or any other note for that matter) Yes. That ‘fixes’ the problem.

Beluga Wail

Artist’s depiction of typical Solfege/Solfa interaction

So dear Sol-fa-ites, give yourselves a nice hug, and the next time you meet someone who uses fixed Do or perhaps just doesn’t care about note-syllables as much as you do (aka: someone who uses fixed Do) before you slice, halve, crimp, carve, gut and starve your adversary, perhaps just smile and remember how patronising I’ve been to you.

Putting the ‘Phil’ in Ph.D

It's Good!

It’s Good! It’s Brahms Raising Raisin Brahms.

GUTEN TAG! (Enjoying your Raisin-Brahms?)

I have just emerged from a rather trippy and viciously-cyclic period of PhD proposal development, hence the lack of posts in the last couple of months. It is in many ways a huge leap of faith finding an interesting and relevant topic (especially in a music-world heavily populated by scholarly types) that hasn’t yet been written about for no good reason.

Whenever I got close to narrowing a field and finding there was little existing research previously, I felt like being in the proverbial room of replaced-monkeys with the banana up a ladder that no-one is touching from second generation fear of the cold water spray but no-one actually knows why. If you don’t know that story I won’t go into it, but I just did.

In any case, my frustrations lurched between “Damn, this is a good topic but someone’s already written about it” and “Damn, no-one has written about this topic – there must be a reason why it’s not valid.” So in the end a leap of faith was required and I am presently in mid-leap… hoping there will be solid ground with no natural predators or environmental hazards on the other side. Just lots of fruit and chocolate.

Along the way I encountered some interesting PhD stereotypes. It is often tempting for ‘pure musicologists’ (aka people who write about music but have no/little musical experience) to end up with an absurdly specific and useless topic only tangentially concerned with music. Topics like:

Not much it turns out.

Not much it turns out.

“The histrionic effects of Franz Joseph Haydn’s brother Michael’s slow sonata movements for harpsichord on the emotional development of hatching red swamp crayfish.”

“Variations on the double constrictor knot formed in ipod headphones by accident in adolescent male coat pockets from 2005 to 2008”

“Why I like Bolognese”

Another recurring PhD type is from composers and more-aged-than-I performers who are lucky enough to draw on their experience and/or folio work to write about themselves. While this would indeed be a fascinating exercise my own effort would most likely turn into:

“Writing a PhD dissertation: An auto-ethnographical and self-aware study on itself”

Perhaps though the most frustrating variety tends to come from those undergoing PhD programs around the beginning of the modern scholarship era – around 1970. Those fortunate ones were at liberty to take advantage of a generally unexplored musical world, often with such reckless abandon as to propel themselves at entire fields in a single sitting, or able to simply just present very basic and fundamental facts as ground-breaking research, leaving future scholars to scavenge feebly in the muddied waters, eking out a merge existence on whatever niche topics can be found. Truly 1970’s scholars are the carp of the musical world, with dissertations such as:

“How to play the pianoforte well”

“I got here first! An analysis of everything ever by George Gershwin with specific focus on 90 other important American composers. Acknowledge me”

“Music: A summary”

All of it.

All of it.

I’m just am glad it’s over now. Many apologies (to those who accidentally stumble upon this website looking for marmot photos – you know who you are) for the delay and hopefully I’ll have a little more time and inspiration soon.

Marmots and their Orchestral Rationale: Part II

INTRO: They say that pigeons develop odd and repetitive behaviours (such as hopping on one foot) should you feed them pellets at random intervals, presumably made of seed or some such food that pigeons like. The theory here is that they believe whatever they happened to be doing at the time triggered the pellet dispensing and if they manage to do it again (in just the right manner) then they will get more pellets. When the next one inevitably arrives it simply reinforces the behaviour and the cycle continues ad infinitum.

HYPOTHESIS: Anyway, it has been over two years since the early days of this blog and I thought it’s a spectacular time to revisit my inaugural rant about orchestral repertoire. I actually had attempted this about one year ago but it remained in draft from and I think now time and some more far-reaching data can provide a three-dimensional-time-instalment on the topic! Basically, we will look at the concert series for 2013 not only of the original Australian orchestra but three separate seasons of another very well-known orchestra in the UK and see what’s what.

METHODOLOGY: The pieces played fall into categories of:

  1. Works by popular European Composers
  2. Works by unpopular European Composers
  3. Works by popular non-European Composers
  4. Works by unpopular non-European Composers

A word from the recapping porpoise:

Recapping Porpoise

The definitions of European and non-European is quite simple but the former includes Russia (as part of a highly integrated ‘Western’ music culture). The definition of ‘popular’ I probably defined earlier in my last rationale post, but for apathy’s sake will re-make it up here and then for obsessive-compulsiveness’s sake compare afterwards anyway, (to test my own consistency).

Popular composer (My 2013 Definition): “A composer who is mainstream enough to be known by a regular concert going audience and can be expected to appear regularly (anywhere from extremely frequently to once every few years) in an orchestral concert series.”

Popular composer (My 2011 Definition): “A well-known composer (Beethoven, Mozart, etc) that a typical Classical concert-going audience could expect to hear every few years or so.”

Close enough! Anyway now we are all on the same (web)page here are the results:


For the original Australian Orchestra:

Original Orchestra ANew Orchestra AWell that’s slightly more promising 70.3% of the series (down from 81.8%) made up of  European classical standards.

Now let’s take a peak of three 6-month seasons of the UK orchestra.

January 2012 to June 2012

1st Season Orchestra B

July 2012 to December 2012

2nd Season Orchestra B

January 2013 to June 2013

3rd Season Orchestra B

This is a little bleaker…

Just a little bit

The percentages chronologically here are 93.4%, 90.4% and 85.5%. Although it’s a slight downward trend the average is still 89.8% of the repertoire is typical European, and in one and a half years only one non-popular, non-European composer is featured.

CONCLUSIONS: I’ve been wondering a little recently about what would happen if orchestras (or classical artists in general) dropped the facade of being part of a ‘living tradition’ and dedicated themselves only to playing what is considered the classical music canon. With this repertoire already making up around 90% of a season (or much more if you include the popular non-Europeans) I doubt the regular concert-going audiences would complain or even notice if it was upped to 100%.

It seems to me that when these orchestras explore or innovate its out of begrudging tokenism and perhaps it would be healthy to say/admit “Wait, this is for all intents and purposes a museum-culture (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and you should go elsewhere if you’re not a part of that.” I think modern composers deserve better then to be lining up for meagre pellet distribution from a culture that is demonstrably against them… it is not good for one’s mental state. Or maybe perhaps what I mean is they should rebuke the insinuation that they are the latest edition of the classical ‘tradition’ and instead be seeking to be relevant to other groups who may be more interested rather than forcing new things on a audience obsessed with the past.

CODA:  The humble pigeon is actually quite exceptional for a commonplace bird*, unlike the ibis, which is unexceptional for a much-worshiped deity symbol. Look them up. Yes, both of them. And remember, nothing says ‘Deutsch touristischen’ more emphatically** than excitedly taking photos of the colloquial dump-birds.

You can even eat them!

*You can even eat them!

**This is not strictly true… a LOT of things say ‘Deutsch touristischen’ emphatically, not least themselves.

It Would be Unimaginative to Make This Title a Pun on ‘Liszt’

Throughout history and beyond, there has been a relentless stream of musically prodigious acts in almost all disciplines, and the field of music has in no way been lacking. Beethoven himself was said to have composed the Ninth Symphony at the age of nine while floating in a lake. That is not strictly true,* but more of a literal misunderstanding of the scene towards the end of Immortal Beloved. Yet it proves the point that some of the legends surrounding musical giants are allegorical; the truth is harvested from the cocoa tree of reality, crushed and fermented by the dual catalysts of 19th century sensationalism and controversy, roasted by flamboyant business acumen and finally undergoing the conching process of time. The result is a smooth and tasty confectionary that does not at all resemble the hard, bitter pod of its origins.

*At all.

Anyway, many of these super-human feats by musicians are indeed true, or in the case of earlier, un-verifiable-by-NASA generations, generally unprovable to not be true. People can be clever sometimes, and so I don’t doubt the plausibility of something like (W.A) Mozart’s transcription of Allegri’s Miserere after one hearing.

Crest of the NASA Anagram Society

Crest of the NASA Acronym Society Addicts

However, in 2006 I was reading the Alan Walker biographies of Liszt and as one can probably imagine, here was a composer whose reputation was built on much Paganini-esque mystique.

Yet among it all, an incident recorded herein caught my doubt and curiosity. Strangely it was not regarding Liszt whose accounts and legends troubled me so, but one of his students, Ernesztina Kramer (1864-1936). Thanks to our friends at The Internet, here’s the account in question:

Of special interest are the recollections of Ernesztina Kramer, who was Liszt’s student for three years from 1882 to 1885. Ernestina had been an infant prodigy, and by the time she was ten years old she was a student of Erkel at the academy. The day dawned when she, like others before her, was introduced to Liszt. He asked her to play something, and since she had been specialising in the music of Schumann, he suggested one of the latter’s sonatas. Nervous and trembling, the poor girl lost her composure and started to play the sonata a semitone high. Liszt did not interrupt her, but let her continue in the wrong key to the end of the piece. The girl then noticed what she had done and cried out: “My God! How unfortunate I am! I can play anything in any key, and that is what happened here.” Liszt consoled her and said: “My child, thousands would be happy to be so unfortunate” (1997, p. 297, Walker).

Artist's Impression

Artist’s Impression

While this is a throwaway anecdote tangentially related to a man who frequently imbibed from his well-stocked cellar of anecdotes, this raised a lot of questions. Here are some doubts I’ve been festering for the last six years:

  • This is Ernesztina’s own account which doesn’t seem to have been echoed anywhere else… and neither does she really (at least in the digital realm).
  • Despite being an 18 year-old prodigy (assuming she saw him soon before he started teaching her), she didn’t notice the tactile, pianistic implications of the ‘unconscious’ transposition, nor the harmonic implications. Which kind of means she performed music entirely thinking only about relative intervals. Not the note, key or chord names, not the absolute pitches, and not even the feel of the piano under the hands (and a semitone higher is a long way in circle-of-fifth world).
  • Again despite being a prodigy, she had a loss of composure at an activity she’d be doing since birth.
  • Again despite being a prodigy and apparently having excellent relative pitch skills, she did not notice it sounded a semitone high.
  • Again despite being a prodigy, and well aware she could ‘play anything in any key’ did not seem to have been told at any point in her history that this was in fact a talent.
  • Furthermore she seemed under the impression it was a curse.
  • Ernesztina did not go on to have a career significant enough to be noted by our friends at The Internet over a century later. Which is a post-humous death sentence.

Anyway those are the bulk of my concerns. Could something like this really happen? Put it this way: I’d happily believe it if she trounced into the room, sat down at the piano, spat heavily and quipped “Pick a piece, Monsieur Liszt. And while you’re at it the key too.” People are clever sometimes, we’ve established that. But generally not simultaneously clever and yet blundering along with massively fundamental and basic mistakes and then not even recognise the resultant phenomenal feat as anything other than ‘misfortune.’ It seems such a talent is negated by a lot of weirdness about the situations.

One other thing. It seems that alternative explanations either partially or completely discredit her story, there’s no realistic, middle-ground explanation. To wit:

The Idealist says: Ernesztina’s account is true and she was raised by a wild pack of absolute-pitch-hating wolves in order to develop her abilities. And then rescued by another pack of relative-pitch hating wolves to repress them. It has been known to happen.

The Optimist says: Ernesztina could play transpositions intuitively, but on this occasion did so deliberately and only pretended it was a mistake so as to appear humble.

The Realist says: I don’t know. I’m still watching the perfect-pitch dog video.

The Pessimist says: Ernesztina went and learned the Schumann sonata a semitone higher. Then pretended she believed it was a horrible upsetting mistake/curse so Liszt wouldn’t make her try it in other keys to verify her talent.

The Cynicist says: It probably didn’t happen at all. Aaaaand there’s no evidence other than a self-account. But if there’s one thing to be gleaned from history its that people don’t ever lie about themselves.

Are there other considerations missing? I’d certainly like to know! Of course, humans are capable of spontaneous transposition and even more amazing things, but if they’re talented enough to do it subconsciously, they should probably also have the much lesser observational abilities to be able to realise they’re doing it. And even if not, to recognise or have been told at some point it’s more of a super-power.

Well, now I feel somewhat bad that I’ve stayed up to 1:30 am to rant about and criticise the account of a long-dead woman I’ve never met who left no discernible mark on the world save a paragraph in Alan Walker’s biography about someone else. However, she can rest easier knowing that now when people google “Ernesztina Kramer” (with the quotations) they’ll get a third result. Thousands would be happy to be so unfortunate.