I was more than a bit surprised to read in an account of Edison's invention of the phonograph that he thought it would be good for recording the spoken word, but not music.
Then somebody got hold of the idea and look where we are today.  
Canned green beans all over the place.



I appreciate all the wonderful responses to my posts over the years, but it is not sustainable to devote this kind of attentive discipline without tangible support from the community who benefit from it. If you want it to continue you must support it: a link to the support page is readily available. Future additions to the blog will be linked to the degree of support it receives.
Upon returning from presenting Tonal Refraction at an International Conference on Music and Cognition in San Francisco next week I will begin preparations for a regular podcast which will be available by subscription.
Thank you for your interest, and for your concern.
And thank you for your support.

One of my most satisfying teaching hours every week is spent with a young man who is blind, non-verbal, autistic, and severely developmentally challenged.  After 16 years of study he is able, while inside of a piece of music, to exercise control and to feel emotional involvement in a way that seems not available to him otherwise, except on a purely animal level, perhaps, when he loses his temper, for example.
Today it was a matter of his performing together with me a duet in which I sang a counterpoint to the melody he played.  It was fascinating to behold his temptation to leave his line and join me in mine, and then to watch him grasp the real intensity of the situation: to resist going where I go and to stand firm with his own task.  
I don't know when I have been more deeply moved in teaching a lesson.
This is reacting the way animals react to sounds they hear but cannot yet identify, as children do before they are led to believe that music is notes or tunes.
Pre-conceptual hearing is open to all variants of vibration and timbre.   A good composer these days is trying to get you, the listener, back in touch with that kind of listening.  That is probably why there is so much percussion in classical music these days:  it has the magical quality that induces pre-conceptual hearing.
Just returned from a conference on music cognition at which I presented my work on Tonal Refraction, I was moved and delighted to see the participation of so many real musicians, not merely scientific types.  I was even more moved when the keynote speaker, Vijay Iyer, brought up the subject of "empathetic listening:"  which is at the very heart of everything I do in teaching, performing, and in my scholarship.

People have requested transcripts of the conference: unfortunately they do not exist. 

I heard a brilliant improvisor a few weeks ago providing organ music between parts of the mass.  It was, as usual, fascinating.  Then he played a chord unlike anything I had ever heard before.  Determined to remember it, I was astonished that it came up again in the course of the improv.
I do not listen analytically: I have no desire to do so.  If someone can produce an unforgettable sound that is more than enough.  I do not need to know what it was.  But I will not forget it.

Don't put your money on risk-free music:  "Taint wuth it, McGee!" as Molly used to say in her own inimitable but unforgettable (and definitely mis-spelled) way.
Where there is no risk there is no soul.  Mistakes are a sign of life, not of faulty preparation.

In a way, we are all born in cages, some larger than others, some more heavily fortified against escape and/or intrusion.
In my experience of music the biggest cage took the form of accepted "rules" governing music theory.  Early on it seemed clear to me that this discipline was attempting to tell me how I should hear music when, in fact, I did not hear it that way.
I clearly said, "No, thank you."  
What is right?
Like the definition of consonance or dissonance, it is all subjective.  One young student pronounced a half-step sounding together as "thrilling." 
At his age I would have found it horrible.
What is the difference between his reaction and mine?  He was not brought up (pianistically speaking) believing that only major and minor chords sounded "right." He was allowed to hear and respond to the whole sound of the piano.
When did composers begin to take that whole sound into account?  I think they did so right from the beginning of the instrument's existence:  I hear it in Mozart, in Haydn -- even if only in spots; certainly in Beethoven, most definitely in Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, and Bartok, by which time the sounding not quite "right" had become the source of their compositions.  
Timbre is one of the most elusive elements of tone:  you cannot write it down, it has to be heard.  It is the difference between the sound of the oboe and that of the clarinet.  
So much of the music industry is concerned with destroying evidence of timbre, or at least disguising it, that synthesizers readily take the place of actual instruments and players.  It gets hard to tell the difference.
But there is a difference.
Pay attention.