Michael McClimon


Election thoughts

November 10, 2016

Like most people I know, I’m profoundly saddened and disappointed by the results of this week’s presidential election. I have lots of thoughts, and I’m not 100% sure I’ll be able to put them down in words, but I’ll try.

I’m sure nothing I’ll write here is anything that hasn’t been written more eloquently elsewhere. My theory friends Megan and Bryn have both written excellent posts on this; Bryn also created a bangin’ Spotify playlist (with some help from his Twitter followers).

I can’t say I’m completely shocked by the outcome, though I am disppointed that the polling numbers seemed to have been misleading. Maybe this is pessimism from living in a deeply red state and driving by a dozen Trump/Pence signs a day, or maybe I’ve just learned never to underestimate angry white people who feel threatened by people of other cultures. I’m as guilty as the next liberal of refusing to engage with my racist/misogynist high-school friends or extended family members on social media. (But at the same time, social media, and Facebook in particular, is a terrible place for substantive discussion with people you disagree with.)

There are a lot of things to be sad and angry about. With Trump in the White House, a Republican Congress, and (at least) one seat to fill in the Supreme Court, social progress in this country could be set back decades in no time flat. As a heterosexual white male, I’m mostly immune from the primary effects of that—straight white dudes have been in power basically forever in this country, after all—and, as I saw somewhere on Twitter, even though I disagree with everything about the next administration, at least I was born in the right camouflage.

I ache for women. Mike Pence is dangerously anti-woman, and it seems likely that reproductive rights are going to take a big hit. Even more than that, though, knowing that our country elected someone who brags about sexual assault over the most qualified candidate of all time is heart-breaking.

I ache for the LGBTQ community. For my friends, whose marriages are now in doubt. For my students, who are beginning to form their adult identities and are now being told that who they are is unacceptable. For the people I’ll never know, who no longer feel safe in their own communities.

I ache for people of color. I’m sad that people who look like me have been so terrible to you for so long. I’m sad that this election has brought to the surface the hate you’ve felt your entire lives. I’m sad we will have an administration that wants to keep you from coming here, and to send home your families. I’m sad that people do not understand that black lives matter. I’m especially sad that the president-elect has promised to restore “law and order,” and that that will involve more senseless murders of black men and women by the people who are supposed to be protecting you.

I know it’s early still, and that there’s work to be done. Already today we’ve donated (well…Carolyn has donated, but we share a bank account) to the NAACP, to Planned Parenthood, and to NARAL Pro-Choice America. A majority of the country did not vote for Donald Trump (not even a majority of voters did), and we cannot stand by and let him and his administration destroy the things that were so hard-won by people working much so much harder than I ever will.

In the past, I’ve tended to be fairly hands-off, politically. I was raised in a culture in which you did your work, and didn’t go telling everybody about it. (My parents are both very liberal, though probably no one outside their immediate family knows that.) For me, that’s going to change: if I can’t speak up for what I think is right, how is anything ever supposed to change?

SMT 2016

November 9, 2016

I was in Canada last week for the annual meeting of the Society for Music Theory (as it turns out, maybe I should have stayed…). It was, overall, a pretty good meeting: I saw old friends, old teachers, and some good papers. More after the break.

The conference was in Vancouver, and getting out to the West Coast is always sort of a pain from here. I left the house Wednesday around 5:00 am, then flew to Atlanta, then Toronto, and on to Vancouver. I landed there around 4:30 pm (Pacific), and made my way by train through the rain to my hotel. From there, it was directly on to the dinner and the Networking committee meeting. (During which the Cubs won the World Series, and Sean made the ominously prescient observation that they had roughly the same chances of winning as Donald Trump.)

The conference proper started on Thursday afternoon, after a lazy morning spent acclimating to Pacific time. I saw more papers than I anticipated: most of them good. Here, for the record.

Papers/Sessions I saw


  • A special session: Music Theory, African Rhythm, and the Politics of Data: Three Analyses of a Corpus of Jembe Drum Music from Mali. I’m not particularly interested in music from Mali, but I do enjoy rhythm and meter. I caught Justin London’s talk, “Statistical Learning and Rhythm–Meter Relationships in Jembe Drum Ensemble Music from Mali” and Rainer Polak’s, “Non-Isochronous Beat Subdivision and Ensemble Synchronization in Jembe Drum Ensemble Music from Mali.” Both were interesting, and London seems to be backing off of his previous work on non-isochronous meters (at least in this repertoire), which was interesting to hear.

  • Two papers in the “Positional Listening/Positional Analysis” session, which was mostly good: John Covach’s A View from Guitar Land: Shifting Positional Listening in Complex Textures and Kevin Holm-Hudson’s Stratified Keyboard Harmony in the Music of Todd Rundgren.

  • Daniel Thompson, A Topical Exploration of the Jazz Messengers’ 1963 Recording “One by One”. I heard a shorter version of this talk last year at Music Theory Southeast, but the longer version was good too. I’m always happy to have more people talking about jazz, especially if (like me), they’re skeptical of Schenkerian analysis of it.

  • James Hepokoski, Shattering the Bonds of Nature: The Queen of the Night Invades Enemy Territory. This paper was very similar to a paper my friend Paul Sherrill gave at SMT 2013, but other than that it was fine.

  • Stephen Rodgers, Schubert’s Idyllic Periods. This paper was one of my favorites, not least because it talked about some of my favorite passages in Schubert. Stephen sang along with Harald Krebs at the piano, but this session was marred by the sound bleed issues at the Sheraton: it was difficult to hear Schubert over (I think) Elliot Carter coming in from next door.


  • A special session, SMT Goes to High School: The AP Music Theory Outreach Project. If I’m being perfectly honest, I didn’t actually mean to go to this session, but it was enlightening! I was only dimly aware of AP music theory, but this session was a good introduction to how the exam is written and graded, along with some nice videos from high-school students who are taking theory now.

  • Rodney Garrison, Schenker’s Elucidations on Unfolding Compound Voices from Der Tonwille 6 (1923) to Der freie Satz (1935). This was a good overview of how Schenker treated unfolding throughout his career, though I was hoping for more analysis in the talk. (Side note: there seemed to be hardly any Schenker at all on the program this year.)

  • The Jazz Interest Group meeting, where we had lightning talks:

    • Daniel Blake, “Space Is The Place”: Composition In New York City’s Improvised Music Scene
    • Garrett Michaelsen, Interactional Listening: Between Atomism and Holism
    • Clay Downham, Collective Improvisational Schemata in Lennie Tristano’s Musical Community
    • Michael McClimon (that’s me!), Harmonic Interaction in Stitt & Rollins’s “The Eternal Triangle”
    • Paul Steinbeck, “Music is seen as well as heard”: Visible Interaction and Jazz Analysis
  • Chris Stover, Timeline Spaces: A Theory of Temporal Process in African Drum/Dance Music. This was a nice paper, although I’m not 100% sure I understood it all.

  • John McKay, Formalizing the Eroica: The E Minor Theme and the Structure of Analytical Revolutions. Also a nice paper, comparing historical approaches to the Eroica to Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.


  • Jeremy Smith, “I Know It’s Over”: Melodically-Established Keys and Tonal (Non-)Closure in Contemporary Popular Music. I try to go to a few pop music papers every year, since I have a passing interest. This one was pretty good, and if nothing else, we got a bunch of Katie Perry songs on Saturday morning.

  • Mary Ellen (Molly) Ryan, “Our Enemies Are Gathered Together”: The Politics of Motets in the Newberry Partbooks. The only AMS paper I went to, because Molly is a friend and we worked at CHMTL together. I didn’t understand every word of this paper, but it was well-presented (again, notwithstanding the sound bleed from next door).

  • Rich Pellegrin, Salience, Common Tones, and Middleground Dissonance in the Fourth Chorus of Brad Mehldau’s Improvisation on “All the Things You Are”. Another jazz paper: Rich is a nice guy and presents well, though I disagree with most of his theoretical work.

  • Scott Burnham’s keynote talk, Words and Music, which was incredible. The topic was great, and he nailed the format.

I think that’s all of them, though I may have missed one or two. Other highlights of my conference mostly included seeing old friends and colleagues. The conference hotel wasn’t great, but I’ll redirect you to my friend Megan’s post on more generalities, including a Twitter roundup.

Sunday we left the hotel about 6:00 am, and I got home about 10:30 pm, before beginning what has turned into one of the longest weeks in recent memory. But more on that next time.

That was quick

November 1, 2016

Ok, so this site is no longer hosted on GitLab Pages.

Looks at watch…looks at yesterday’s post date…

I know. But! When I was working on the site yesterday, GitLab was taking forever to actually build the site and push the content. I know this is probably a minor inconvenience that doesn’t happen often, but I’d prefer to have no inconvenience at all.

The site is now hosted on Amazon S3, with their CloudFront service to provide the SSL. (It’s not as though this site gets enough traffic to justify a global CDN.) Two articles proved invaluable in getting all of this set up, since I had never used CloudFront before: one from David Baumgold, and another from Joe Lust. Now it’s dead simple to deploy, and I don’t have to depend on another service to do the building and pushing for me.

I’ve got a support ticket open with Hover for some DNS weirdness, but hopefully that’ll be resolved soon. In the meantime, I’m pretty happy with the current setup. I’m heading to Vancouver this weekend for AMS/SMT, and I’m going to try to write a bit while I’m there (or on the long trek from East Coast to West).

If nothing else, it’s harder to mess around with DNS on airport/hotel WiFi.

New Blog (again)

October 31, 2016

This site has, once again, changed on the backend without noticably changing to the outside world (modulo a few different links). It’s now built with Hugo, which is yet another static site generator.

Why change? I hardly ever updated the site anyway, and so it seems like it would hardly be worth the work of switching everything over and learning a new thing. A bunch of reasons, as it turns out:

  1. I enjoy learning new things, especially techy things, and more especially if they might come in handy in the future. (See: this site, which has been through four or five different backends.)
  2. Let’s be honest; I was procrastinating on a bunch of things. Obviously that’s the best time to rewrite the website.
  3. (Now, some actual reasons.) Because I don’t update the website that often, Jekyll was getting annoying. Because Jekyll is a Ruby application, it seemed like every time I needed it my Ruby environment was somehow out of whack, or GitHub pages now needed a gem which needed to install, which means that I need to rebuild Nokogiri and figure out why it wasn’t working…and on and on. I read about Hugo on this Hacker News thread a few weeks back and it said one of the main advantages was that Hugo was a binary (it’s written in Go): just download it and it works.
  4. Hugo has some nice features: it’s much faster than Jekyll, and it has live-reload built in (which I’ve never used before, but is much easier than command-tabbing over to Firefox and then hitting command-R to reload). It’s like magic!

So after a bit of frustration having to do with the uglyurls setting, it’s up and running. (I was trying to keep all of the URLs the same, but ultimately I decided it was easier to use the defaults and set up a bunch of aliases, since I didn’t have that many pages anyway.) Switching to Hugo also gave me an opportunity to try out GitLab, which I’d been meaning to do for a while. GitLab Pages (who hosts this site now) has support for Hugo out of the box, and running a Hugo site on GitHub pages takes some hassle, it seemed.

GitLab Pages also lets you set up SSL for your domain, which, thanks to Let’s Encrypt, is free and relatively easy! So now my site has a fancy little green lock in the URL bar.

So that’s the new site, for now. And though I say this every time I update the site, I would like to start writing more here. I’ve made that slightly easier on myself this time around by removing all links to this blog from the main site. That way, if it turns out I don’t write here, I won’t feel so guilty. If I do, so much the better!

Reconceptualizing the Lydian Chromatic Concept

October 27, 2015

“Reconceptualizing the Lydian Chromatic Concept: George Russell as Historical Theorist”
Michael McClimon
Society for Music Theory, St. Louis, Missouri, October 31, 2015

Read the abstract here.