The other night we finally watched Hidden Figures, which is a really great movie. The scenes which depicted the IBM computer being installed reminded us of this 10″ box set, which includes a book and record on the subject of the relationship between mathematics and music.

The book includes photographs of the computer used at Bell Laboratories to compose the music heard on the record. It’s an IBM 7090, the same $2.9 million machine that was used by NASA at the Langley Research Center to calculate trajectories for the Mercury and Gemini space flights.

Music from Mathematics begins with a history of scientific inquiries into the nature of musical composition, from Pythagoras to Hermann von Helmholtz, who designed a resonator to identify the frequencies in music (an invention which indirectly lead Alexander Graham Bell towards his work on the invention of the telephone). The book also breaks down a composer’s work in strictly mathematical terms, noting for instance that even in Schoenberg’s restrictive twelve-tone technique, a sequence of twelve notes offers 479,001,600 possibilities. A factorial such as this is expressed “12!” because mathematics is exciting!

Another part of the book points to the appeal of the unexpected, using Mozart’s Musikalisches Würfelspiel as an example. A popular 18th century game, dice compositions feature sets of alternate sequences of notes depending on the numbers shown when the “composer” throws a pair of dice. The book perpetuates an uncertainty by attributing the work to Mozart, for though published in 1792 and included in the Köchel catalog, it has never been verified as Mozart’s work. Musikalisches Würfelspiel is capable of producing 1116 similar but distinct waltzes.

The book and record contains a number of experiments beginning at this point with Music by Chance, produced at Bell Telephone Laboratories. The second side of the record opens with a remarkable piece composed on ILLIAC computer at the University of Illinois in 1955.

The process began by assigning numbers to notes of the scale from low C upwards. In the beginning sharps and flats were omitted, but in later experiments a full chromatic scale of two and a half octaves was used. The computer then generated random numbers. The numbers were screened through a series of tests representing the various rules of musical composition such as tonality and the standard of counterpoint formalized in the 16th century. If the next number did not conform to the rules it was rejected and a new random number was generated and tested. The numbers which passed the testing were stored in the computer until a short melody was created, and it was printed out and translated into notation for a human performer.

The Illiac Suite produced by this experiment is regarded as the first musical score composed by a computer. The record inside Music from Mathematics contains only a two minute sampling from its fourth movement, but you can hear a performance of the entire work on Youtube here. Although this is certainly the sort of music which gave John Hartford the “Steamboat Whistle Blues,” you’ll find the Illiac Suite no less accessible than Bela Bartok’s quartets, although hardly as rewarding.

The following year a second Music from Mathematics was released on the Decca label. Not a documentary like this set, it presented eighteen performances by the IBM 7090 recorded at the Bell Laboratories. Fans of this album most famously include author Arthur C. Clarke, who later had HAL 9000 the computer sing “Bicycle Built for Two” (ie “Daisy Bell”) as he fades away in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This was the first song sung by a computer, and appeared on that record.

Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Breakfast Time” is our choice for the best song about the most important meal of the day. Of course there are so many good breakfast songs, like “Eggs and Sausage” by Tom Waits or Dave Dudley’s subtle masterpiece “Coffee, Coffee, Coffee.”

Our favorite Sunday morning breakfast at home is biscuits and gravy with scrambled eggs on the side.

DSC07073Ken Nordine’s “Word Jazz” LPs present his bizarre, often Kafka-esque stories in the style of the beat poets. On his early albums for Dot, he’s backed by the Northern Jazz Quartet, led by Richard Campbell. He later recorded with the Chico Hamilton Quintet, and also served as a vocal coach to Linda Blair during the filming of The Exorcist.

This track from Word Jazz Vol. II puts a positive spin on Nordine’s paranoia.

Classical musicians are not A-list celebrities today, but that was not always the case. If you think of the total span of recorded music, from the earliest commercial recordings of the late 1870s to the present, classical music was for the first half one of the most popular genres.

Fritz Kreisler is one of our favorite classical performers from that period — his recorded range from 1915 to 1950, and due to his popularity were pretty widely re-issued on LP and now on CD.

Kreisler was half-Jewish but a convert to Catholicism, and had been baptized at twelve. He served as an officer in the Austrian army early in World War I, but was quickly wounded and honorably discharged (his recollection of this time was published as Four Weeks in the Trenches: The War Story of a Violinist). During both World Wars he settled safely in the United States, making New York his home and becoming an American citizen in 1943.

Between the wars Kreisler was one of the most distinguished and influential musicians in the United States and Europe. His tone was expressive and instantly recognizable, and his interpretations highly personal, as reflected in the original works for which he is probably best remembered today.

His own compositions were often pistaches of the composers he most admired, from Beethoven and Brahms to Italian opera composers like Paganini. Kreisler adapted Paganini’s D major violin concerto, a showpiece for a re-tuned violin in the hands of a virtuoso, for a 1936 recording with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Around this same time he revealed that many of his transcriptions of early works were in fact his own compositions, much to the chagrin of critics who hadn’t seen through the ruse. Many of these original pieces were popular encores, before and after this time, especially “Liebesfreud.”


His later life in New York was marred by two automobile accidents, leading to poor health which limited his performing and recording. By this time his concerts consisted largely of his own material, and his repertoire was restricted. Regardless, he remained enormously popular. He made his last recordings in 1950, and passed away twelve years later at the age of eighty-six. Kreisler was interred in Brooklyn’s Woodlawn Cemetery, where one might also pay homage to many jazz legends, including Duke Ellington, Max Roach and Miles Davis.

In his lifetime, Kreisler owned and played a number of legendary violins, including ones made by Stradivarius and the Guarneris — some of those he owned are now named for him, including one now owned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

We didn’t see where photographer Ellen Schmidt was credited for the pictures she took for the Star Tribune, but we really loved them! You can see a slideshow of her photos here. We also started a thread of photos from the block party on our facebook page here.

Thank you all so much for making it a wonderful day — we think it was the gigantic crowd which brought out the sunshine and put spring into gear. We’d like to especially thank, as Dave said when he was introducing Blaha on stage, all of you we see throughout the other 364 days of the year. Thank you for making the record store a special place.

Hooray hooray! Spring is around the corner, and so is our eighth annual block party!

We will be opening at 9am on Saturday April 21st. We have a total of 338 different Record Store Day titles in stock, and will have multiple copies of the most anticipated ones.

Please understand that we may not be able to look for the release for you over the telephone or email today.

Here is the list of amazing performers we will have here on 39th Avenue on April 21st!



Charlie Parr  11am

Wild Hands  noon

The Southside Aces  1:30pm

Toki Wright & Big Cats  3pm

Black Widows  4:30pm

BLAHA  6pm


But we’ll see you soon! Today we’re gonna visit family (and also go into the shop and make some repairs).



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