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“Further Persecution of a Corpse: Beethoven and His Metronome”

July 27th, 2021

Further findings related to the confusion, reported here a few days ago, and elsewhere years ago, about Beethoven and his markings and his metronome:

Conductors’ Tempo Choices Shed Light over Beethoven’s Metronome,” Almudena Martin-Castro and Iñaki Ucar, PLoS ONE, vol. 15, no. 12, 2020, e0243616. (Thanks to Xavier Purroy Solans for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia and at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Getafe, Spain, explain:

During most part of Western classical music history, tempo, the speed of music, was not specified, for it was considered obvious from musical context. Only in 1815, Maelzel patented the metronome. Beethoven immediately embraced it, so much as to add tempo marks to his already published eight symphonies. However, these marks are still under dispute, as many musicians consider them too quick to be played and even unmusical, whereas others claim them as Beethoven’s supposedly written will. In this work, we develop a methodology to extract and analyze the performed tempi from 36 complete symphonic recordings by different conductors. Our results show that conductor tempo choices reveal a systematic deviation from Beethoven’s marks, which highlights the salience of “correct tempo” as a perceptive phenomenon shaped by cultural context. The hasty nature of these marks could be explained by the metronome’s ambiguous scale reading point, which Beethoven probably misinterpreted.


The Frog Test [Humour Study]

July 26th, 2021

As some have pointed out, analyzing humour can be a bit like dissecting a frog – the frog always dies.

Nevertheless, Professor Ori Amir, who is not only Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychological Science at Pomona College, US, but also a stand-up comedian – has suggestions for a new humour analysis method, which, he says, might help in alleviating the death of the frog :

The method relies on the assumption that presenting participants with theoretical accounts for a specific joke would shift their attention to those joke elements or the perspective the theory deems relevant. A unique advantage of the method is that it does not require a manipulation of joke content (as does the experimental approach) or determining whether vague or abstract theoretical conditions are met (as does content analysis).

See The Frog Test: A Tool for Measuring Humor Theories’ Validity and Humor Preferences Frontiers in Human Neuroscience February 2016

BONUS : Professor Amir tells neuroscience jokes

Podcast Episode #1077: “Danger Assessment of Holy Water”

July 25th, 2021

In Podcast Episode #1077, Marc Abrahams shows an unfamiliar research study to biomedical researcher Chris Cotsapas. Dramatic readings and reactions ensue.

Remember, our Patreon donors, on most levels, get access to each podcast episode before it is made public.

Chris Cotsapas encounters:

Holy Water—A Risk Factor for Hospital-Acquired Infection,” J.C. Rees and K.D. Allen, Journal of Hospital Infection, vol. 32, no. 1, January 1996, pp. 51–5.

Seth GliksmanProduction Assistant

Available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Google Podcasts, AntennaPod, BeyondPod and elsewhere!

The Wombot and the Wombats

July 23rd, 2021

Ig Nobel Prize winner Scott Carver, at the University of Tasmania, and colleagues demonstrate and explain the wombot—their wombat-sized robot for wombat research—in action, in this ABC News report:

The 2019 Ig Nobel Prize for physics was awarded to Patricia Yang, Alexander Lee, Miles Chan, Alynn Martin, Ashley Edwards, Scott Carver, and David Hu, for studying how, and why, wombats make cube-shaped poo.

That prize-winning research is documented in these studies:

  • How Do Wombats Make Cubed Poo?” Patricia J. Yang, Miles Chan, Scott Carver, and David L. Hu, paper presented at the 71st Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics, Abstract: E19.0000, November 18–20, 2018
  • Intestines of Non-Uniform Stiffness Mold the Corners of Wombat Feces,” Patricia J. Yang, Alexander B. Lee, Miles Chan, Michael Kowalski, Kelly Qiu, Christopher Waid, Gabriel Cervantes Benjamin Magondu, Morgan Biagioni, Larry Vogelnest, Alynn Martin, Ashley Edwards, Scott Carver, and David L. Hu, Soft Matter, vol. 3, 2021

Was Something Wrong with Beethoven’s Metronome?

July 22nd, 2021

Was something wrong with Beethoven’s metronome? Well, was something wrong? Well? A fair number of people have tried hard to find out. Four of them produced this mathematics-based analysis:

Was Something Wrong with Beethoven’s Metronome?Sture Forsén, Harry B. Gray, L.K. Olof Lindgren, and Shirley B. Gray, Notices of the AMS, vol. 60, no. 9, 2013. The authors explain:

The pianist and musicologist Peter Stadlen (1910–1996), who devoted many years to studies of Beethoven’s markings, regarded sixty-six out of a total of 135 important markings as absurdly fast and thus possibly wrong. Indeed, many if not most of Beethoven’s markings have been ignored by latter day conductors and recording artists….

We investigate possible sources of error as to why Beethoven may not have been able to correctly note reliable and transferable time measures. We hope to demonstrate that there are possible mathematical explanations for the “curious” tempo markings—explanations that hitherto have not been considered except perhaps by Stadlen, who even went so far as to locate Beethoven’s own metronome.

Here is video of one of Beethoven’s composition being played, possibly with incorrect timing, by someone other than Beethoven:


Improbable Research