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Create Metronomic Music

RadioLab tackles the mystery of an early tech adopter circa 1815 named Beethoven

20130428-metronome

A few months ago, back in mid-February, the RadioLab show took up the subject of Ludwig van Beethoven’s engagement, late in his life, with a then new gadget — think of it as the iPod of its day, perhaps the modular synth of the early 1800s. The gadget was the metronome, developed by Johann Nepomuk Mäzel. Now, Beethoven was not foretelling György Ligeti’s “Poème symphonique,” his symphony for 100 metronomes, but he was working with the tool toward his own ends — retrofitting his early works, adding to them metronome-derived time signatures that were faster than musicians then, and now, would play. Speaking in the podcast are, among others, Alan Pierson, Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic.


There are interesting parallels between the metronome and the way, a century or so later, the player piano would intrigue both Conlon Nancarrow and Igor Stravinsky, the former with his complex, post-human endeavors, and the latter’s interest in using the machine to adhere to his strictist intents.

Track originally posted for free download at radiolab.org. Photo via flickr.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , / Comment: 1 ]

One Comment

  1. Irving
    [ Posted April 30, 2013, at 3:06 pm ]

    The metromome is something I remember well. Although I had an electronic one that had a red light that flashed at me as well as the ticking noise. It almost became a sense of comfort at times. Always reliable.

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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