20 Music TED Talks

Via Bachelor’s Degree. I think I might spend some time going through these.

  1. David Byrne: How architecture helped music evolve: David Byrne is so cool he could power a room full of cryogenic pods just by staring at them. Here, he channels his impressive experiences playing everywhere from CBGB and Tootsie’s to Carnegie Hall and Disney Hall to discuss the impact that architecture held over his compositions. Everything had to be written to suit the challenges of a specific space, and Byrne broadens his observations to encompass the whole of music history. He even points out similarities between this phenomenon and similar concepts found in nature, using sparrows and tanagers as an example.
  2. Adam Sadowsky engineers a viral music video: Emerging technologies and social media have changed the face of music forever, and bands such as OK Go discovered creative ways to yield the internet as a promotional tool. Even those who don’t much enjoy their music still appreciate the imagination and painstaking detail that goes into their viral videos. “This Too Shall Pass” charmed audiences in early 2010 for its immensely clever, highly competent use of Rube Goldberg-inspired engineering — and, as intended, quickly went viral. In this illuminating TED Talk, the man behind the plan reveals the methods behind designing and building the wondrous machinery that became a massive online hit.
  3. Eric Whitacre: A choir as big as the internet: Another excellent video demonstrating the increasingly more intimate relationship between the internet and music, this time showing off an impressive understanding and utilization of both. 185 participants hailing from 12 countries submitted videos and audio files of themselves singing the individual parts of conductor and composer Eric Whitacre’s original choral arrangement “Lux Aurumque.” A showstopping virtual choir results, with everyone’s submission carefully, passionately pieced together into one video. It especially warrants viewing by music students and aficionados with a particular interest in how art can blend with technology in new and exciting ways.
  4. Bobby McFerrin hacks your brain with music: Music fans looking for a little stimulation on a time crunch should check out this amazing talk by 10-time Grammy winner Bobby McFerrin, famous for the ubiquitous “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” In only three minutes, he uses audience participation to illustrate the pentatonic scale and points out some stunning facts lurking behind it. With only a small amount of hinting, he’s able to conduct a spontaneous, improvised choir capable of following his musical commands. How this phenomenon works is not exactly explained — scientists themselves might also find it baffling — but it definitely highlights the wonderful mysteries inherent in the human mind and its relationship with established musical patterns.

  5. Robert Gupta: Music is medicine, music is sanity: The story of Nathaniel Anthony Ayers stands as a triumphant example of music’s uncanny ability to help and heal. Plagued with schizophrenia and the social marginalization that comes with it; he broke down and was tragically forced to sacrifice promising Julliard studies, eventually turning up homeless in Los Angeles. TED Fellow and LA Philharmonic violinist Robert Gupta once met and taught the brilliant, troubled musician, which piqued his interest in how music relates to mental illness and other neurological and cognitive issues. This bittersweet, tender tale underscores the importance of both music therapy and a greater understanding of how the human mind works and can work.
  6. Emmanuel Jal: The music of a war child: Through books, lectures and music, activist Emmanuel Jal bravely opens up about his harrowing life as a child soldier in Sudan. Because many of his contemporaries and successors lack the resources and education to voice their struggles and hardships, he channels both his personal pain and the volatile climate of his war-torn nation into impassioned music. TED provided him another platform to share his tragic experiences and pay tribute to aid worker and education proponent Emma McCune through talk, song and dance. In today’s world of empty exhibitionism and soulless pap plaguing the air waves and DJ booths, it’s always refreshing to hear voices utilizing their talents to raise the world’s consciousness and inspire them towards social justice. These are the men and women deserving of more recognition and resources.
  7. David Pogue on the music wars: By this point, everyone on both sides of the argument is probably exhausted with rehashing the same talking points on digital music and piracy. The multitalented David Pogue with the New York Times humorously sings about how the Internet, music industry, RIAA and television stations have reacted to developing technologies, rising prices and illegal downloads. Nobody escapes from his synthesized, cheekily self-aware homage to Billy Joel, Sonny and Cher and the Village People. While it may not be as provocative as many of the lectures and performances, the charming video makes for a lovely, light distraction to spark talks about broader copyright issues.
  8. Benjamin Zander on music and passion: Although concepts behind classical music flow throughout his lecture, conductor Benjamin Zander uses the multifaceted genre as a springboard towards broader ideas and phenomena. Social conditioning, cognition and emotion all factor into this intriguing relationship, and he starts out by discussing the role of impulse in creating, performing and reacting to classical pieces. In addition, the lecture also delves into cultural perceptions of Chopin and other masters. Zander’s clear, almost manic, adoration of classical music infects the audience, however, and fuels his desire to open the world up to everything it has to offer them creatively, emotionally and intellectually.
  9. Ananda Shankar Jayant fights cancer with dance: In 2008, Ananda Shankar Jayant received a devastating breast cancer diagnosis. This lecture delves into her intensely emotional battle against the disease, discussing how immersing herself in traditional Indian dance lifted her spirits and stimulated her mind. Of course, doing so did not outright cure her cancer, but it provided her with the strength and courage to carry on with life and treatment. Jayant’s inspiring tale culminates in her sharing one of the many dances that guided her through such heavy trials. Her movements represent much, much more than classical Indian artistry — they also serve as an incredibly strong metaphor for the intensity and fear she experiences on a daily basis, and the hope needed to survive it all.
  10. Evelyn Glennie shows how to listen: At first, the idea of a deaf percussionist may seem an absurd, oxymoronic concept. Composer and percussionist Evelyn Glennie, however, completely defies the unfair, unfounded stereotype. Deaf since age 12, she challenges more than just preconceived notions regarding disability. She has carved for herself a respectable (not to mention respected) niche amongst her peers as a percussionist, because music involves so much more than the production of sound. Truly listening to a composition also means an awareness of the vibrations and movement present within an immediate time and place. Musicians and hopeful musicians especially need to pay close attention to her valuable lessons, as they will certainly enhance one’s experience in creating and relating effective compositions.
  11. Pamelia Kurstin plays the theremin: Marvel as the incredible Pamelia Kurstin performs with one of the music world’s most bizarre, haunting electronic instruments. Played without touching anything, the theremin possesses two antennae, each controlling either tone or pitch through vibrations. Most people probably recognize the sound as something straight out of a classic science fiction or horror film, but this performance showcases the strange and wonderful instrument’s true potential. Following her skillful set, Kurstin relates the intricate whats and whys behind the delightful (yet sadly underrated) theremin as well as its fascinating history.
  12. Bruno Bowden folds while Rufus Cappadocia plays: Another seriously cool video appropriate for music fans needing to kill a few minutes. Bruno Bowden, a Google engineer with a particular fondness for the art of origami, decided to challenge himself by folding one of fellow paper enthusiasts Robert Lang’s legendarily complex designs — blindfolded! Rufus Cappadocia improvises some appropriate accompaniment on “his custom, five-string cello,” providing viewers with quick but highly impressive and creative entertainment.
  13. Sivamani: Rhythm is everything, everywhere: Sivamani, a percussion expert, performs one of TED’s most electrifying, innovative musical sets yet. He merges the musical traditions of myriad nations and utilizes instruments as diverse as water jugs, luggage and even the audience itself! One does not have to boast any musical training whatsoever to appreciate the man’s envious creativity and desire to experiment within his chosen art.
  14. Naturally 7 beatboxes a whole band: In another seriously cool, highly creative TED performance, Naturally 7 brings their unique brand of hip-hop to the stage. Even those not into that particular genre will find themselves stunned by the impressive, completely a capella vocal play present in “Fly Baby.” Rather than playing any instruments, the band members provide their own rhythm and music through the underappreciated, exceptionally difficult art of beatboxing. The sheer talent and precision involved needs to be heard to be believed.
  15. Caroline Phillips: Hurdy-gurdy for beginners: Though boasting a rich history dating back at least almost one millennium and encompassing a wide geographical range in Europe, few really know much of anything about the wheel fiddle, better known as the hurdy-gurdy. Its complex structure of strings plucked by a crank and wooden, piano-like keys has cropped up in numerous folk music traditions, but managed to slip into obscurity after a while. Caroline Phillip’s short but enlightening lecture brings this unique instrument to life, and her performance exposes audiences to a couple of old Basque songs from France and Spain — a truly interesting genre sadly outside many peoples’ peripherals.
  16. Jakob Trollback rethinks the music video: By this point, music videos have become a familiar, if not essential, fiber in the musical tapestry. Like every other creative medium, it possesses its own set of conventions and cliches, but still carries a plethora of potential for new, artistic innovations. Some of them, however, tend to emphasize the cinematic element over the musical — a trend that disconcerts multimedia designer Jakob Trollback. His simple goals revolve around experimenting with the music video format to emphasize sound over sight. Along with two other designers, he created an excellent visual treat involving geometric shapes, lights and dynamic text that all enhance David Byrne and Brian Eno’s brilliance rather than distract.
  17. Jose Abreu on kids transformed by music: Even those who never personally experienced or witnessed such situations still understand and appreciate the redemptive, therapeutic and wholly transmogrifying power of most things musical. For 30 years, Jose Abreu has fronted the El Sistema Orchestra, comprised of impoverished children from all across Venezuela. His admirable work, for which he received a TED Prize in 2009, provides them with opportunities to succeed in education (and, subsequently, life) through musical prowess. It breaks down social, political, economic, religious and racial barriers in order to teach them how to be a part of something greater than themselves and work tirelessly in the pursuit of a common goal. Many El Sistema alumni have gone on to perform with prestigious orchestras worldwide, but their dedication and passion also vastly improve their home communities as well. Abreu’s TED Prize wish asks for 50 more aspirant musicians to receive all the training necessary to promote justice in the world, in addition to a program similar to El Sistema organized in the United States. Though his work leads him to inspire children, this amazing man hopes that others will bring music therapy, education and career opportunities to other marginalized demographics, such as the ailing.
  18. John Walker re-creates great performances: Another great video appealing to music aficionados and performers with a great love of technology and computers. Today’s recording features allow users to analyze more than just pitch and tone — some are so sophisticated they can even detect nuances in key pressure and pedal use. Subsequently, the information can be fed into a computerized piano which replicates the original human concerts almost flawlessly. This is an especially exciting development when it comes to preserving older recordings and classic performances whose age threatens their stability. Future generations can appreciate the movements, pieces and people who inspired and paved the way for today’s innovators.
  19. David Holt plays mountain music: Take a trip down the Appalachian trail through the amazing folk music styling of David Holt. Along with his performance, the Grammy winner keeps alive the struggling oral storytelling tradition. He delivers an impressively insightful lecture diving deeply into the history of the music and folktales from the region, showcases the people and instruments that — to him — define Appalachia. Most, if not all, viewers and audience members will recognize the banjo’s importance. But they may not know much of anything about the “thunderwear” or the mouth bow. The real showstopper of the almost half-hour performance, however, remains the truly engaging, impassioned stories he tells. Such devotion to America’s melodic history prevents it from slipping into unfortunate, unfair obscurity.
  20. Itau Talgam: Lead like the great conductors: Every conductor, excellent, terrible, or anywhere in between, has both a story and a leadership philosophy to share, and this extends far beyond their orchestras and choirs. This lecture explores how six different, highly acclaimed conductors approached the challenges of silently directing a group of musicians to meet a common goal. All of them offer valuable lessons to business types, activists and other organizers in need of a little inspiration, not just their peers in the industry. Students desiring a career involving music education will especially benefit from the information available here.