The ride currently scheduled for May 14 is, of course, the main event around which the entire trip is organized. My entire reason for going to Austria and Slovenia in May is to attempt the climb up the Loiblpass (Ljubelj from the Slovenian perspective) and survey the route that Mahler would have taken. In the Baedeker guide that Mahler used, there is a conspicuous mention of a “Gasthaus Deutscher Peter” which had already, at that time, been in operation for the preceding 500 years. I had always hoped that I might stay there, but it seemed impractical given its location so far from any public transportation. Once I decided to rent a car (and now I cannot imagine how I would do this trip without a car—certainly things like the Zoncolan would be out of the question), I immediately set to securing my reservation at Deutscher Peter. On the morning after riding the Zoncolan, I will drive with all haste to Maiernigg, where I will hopefully arrive in time to visit the composing hut, which closes at 2:00. After that, I will stretch my legs with a leisurely ride around the Wörthersee (another ride Mahler did—I would assume several times, but mentioned specifically by Bauer-Lechner on one occasion just before the Loiblpass ride). From there I will drive to Deutscher Peter in time for dinner.

The next day is the the big ride, weather permitting. (I have not yet decided what constitutes bad enough weather to warrant cancellation.) I’m still juggling a few options, but what is absolutely certain is that I will, as Mahler did, ride from Maiernigg to Bled (in Slovenia) as a single uninterrupted segment. If, as I am leaning towards, I make a single long loop coming back over the Wurzenpass and then via Villach and Velden to the southern side of the Wörthersee, then I will drive to Maiernigg and start and end my ride from there. My second option is to ride to Bled, ride around Lake Bled, and turn around, ride back over the Loiblpass from the Slovenian side (or through the tunnel if I’m too tired to contemplate the steeper Slovenian side after 80 miles of riding). If I take that option, which is shorter by about 20 km, I’ll start from Deutscher Peter, ride down to Maiernigg, turn around, then end my ride back at Deutscher Peter, thus avoiding any driving.

So much for the planning. I will save discussion of how all this relates to Mahler (you’ll have to buy the book), but for now here is some preliminary information about the road I will encounter, and which Mahler rode in 1900. I have recently discovered some excellent historical information about the Loiblpass road which has been collected by a museum in Tržič (the first town on the Slovenian side of the pass), some of which is displayed on a tourism site. I will be stopping by there on the following day.

The basic stats on the Loiblpass are not too frightening: 16 KM at about 6%. That puts it roughly in the same category as the eastern side of the Col du Tourmalet (same length, greater average gradient at 7.5%) or the southern (easy) side of Mount Greylock in Massachusetts (also same length, 4.5% gradient). But you don’t come to be because you want to know average gradients, so let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?

The most prominent feature of the Loiblpass is that it is divided into two distinct sections, with a small descent in the middle. The Baedeker Guide that Mahler used makes note of this as well, calling the first the Kleine Loibl. This is probably what accounts  for Mahler’s error in thinking that he was already to the top, when in fact he still had a considerable climb still before him. Mahler, of course, would have been climbing without the benefit of GPS, or even an odometer to give him an accurate sense of how far he had ridden. I can attest to the mind’s ability (even with those crutches) to over-estimate how long you’ve been climbing and to think you’re done when you really are not. And even if we assume that Mahler remembered that there was a “Kleine Loibl” from reading the Baedeker, he might have mistaken the small dip at the 2.5 KM mark as that point.

Kleine Loibl

The stats for this section aren’t so different from the whole Loiblpass, obviously with the exception of length: it too has a short opening section, followed by a dip and then steeper finish. The first part, which climbs up to Unterloibl, is nothing to worry about, but long enough that it is also not easy. Were this climb in Rhode Island, it would probably be one of the hardest around. Though its profile is strikingly different, it is similar in terms of both difficulty, length, and average gradient to Tower Hill Road. That is a great training road, but not something anyone fears. The biggest difference is that the Loibl opening has a long stretch of ~8% where Tower Hill is obnoxiously inconsistent.

The real climbing starts on the other side of Unterloibl. Just on the other side of that town begins a 2.5 stretch of 10%, concluding with (likely) some ramps up to 20%. The entirety of the Kleine Loibl is just slightly easier and less steep than the western side of Lincoln Gap. Think about that for a second. Yes, the western side is much easier than the eastern, but having done it a few times I can attest to the difficulty of the “easy” side of Lincoln Gap. It’s hard enough that I wouldn’t want to do it with racing gears, even if I might just crack it with a compact and a 28 rear cog. Mahler would have ridden this on a single speed bike that would have been much heavier than any modern bike. My initial conjecture that it was unlikely that Mahler would have mistaken the Kleine Loibl for the whole climb now seems entirely plausible. Without metrics or an odometer, he would have been guessing his location solely based on landmarks in the Baedeker guide and his subjective sense of how far he had ridden. But riding uphill, even with metrics, has a tendency to mess with that subjective sense. I, for example, wondered if I had gotten to the top of the much easier Appalachian Gap even though I: 1. knew that it, like the Loibl, had a false summit, and 2. should have known that I had not gone far enough to be at the top yet, and 3. knew that it ended with a very steep section that I could not possibly have done.

Mahler thus likely crested the Kleibe Loibl, and shortly thereafter would have noticed some memorable landmarks that were listed in the Baedeker, like the Gasthof Deutscher Peter. At that point he would have realized with horror that he still had not just a little further to go, but more than half of the climb—and the steepest part to boot.

The next part of the climb starts just before the road passes Deutscher Peter. This is another nasty climb (but still on a main road, so nicely paved with a good amount of traffic):

It tracks 5% pretty closely for the first 3 KM, ending with a kilometer at 12%. That would be manageable were it not for what comes next.

600 meters before the Loibl Tunnel that leads to Slovenia, there is a small turn-off for a road leading up to the Loiblpass. The tunnel was built during WWII by inmates of the Mauthausen concentration camp (the museum in Tržič has a very nice virtual exhibit about the construction), and therefore Mahler would have taken the pass road. It seems to be little-used, and mostly by hikers. (At least one cyclist has done it, blogged about it, and describes it in frightening terms.) Since Austria doesn’t have Google StreetView, I’ve had little luck figuring out what the current road condition is likely to be, but I’m planning for the worst. My best guess is mostly gravel with some rocks and broken asphalt to make it even more fun. But even if the road were perfect, it’s still a steep, steep climb.

Almost 3 KM at almost 12%. It tracks quite closely with the last 1.5 miles (2.5 KM) of the hard side of Lincoln Gap. Bear in mind that the last 1.5 miles of Lincoln Gap is among the most feared stretches of road in the northeast, possibly the entire US. This is a road that many road cyclists will attempt without proper gearing or preparation and end up walking. Let’s just imagine trying to do that on a heavy singe-speed bike from 1895, and on gravel.

Mahler, according to the story, did not ride all of this section, but instead handed his bike to a boy on the side of the road, whom he paid to bring his bike to the top while he went cross-country. My best guess is that he would have left the road just after the second switchback on this road and tried to cut from there directly up to the pass, which should be visible from that point of the road.

The descent down the Slovenian side would seem to be even more difficult, and I have yet to decide if I’m doing this one (see above), but at the very least I’ll have to descend it. It’s steep enough that I’m working under the assumption that I’ll be walking much of this:

For what it’s worth, I have a little more visual information about this one, because there’s an annual race up this road on “old-timer” motor cycles. Of the many videos from the race available on youtube, this might be my favorite (you might want to turn your volume off or down before hitting play):

Zoncolan and a Carlos Kleiber tribute ride

I will save the big Loiblpass ride for another post. I’m still juggling a few possibilities for that day. After I ride the Tre Cime climb, I will leave Dobbiaco that night, and stop at Sutrio, which is just about half-way between there and Maiernigg. Sutrio is on the Eastern side of the most feared climb used in the Giro d’Italia, the Monte Zoncolan. So that I can hopefully still get to Maiernigg the next day in time to visit the Häuschen (open Thursday-Sunday, 10-1), I will get up as early as it is light to ride the Zoncolan. My route will be rather short, but there’s no getting around that this will be a hard climb. I am however, bringing some ridiculously low gears, so even with extended 15% gradients, I should be able to manage. It’ll just be slow. It is possible to climb the Zoncolan from Sutrio, but it is a much easier approach, and thus, not the “real thing.” Instead, I will ride over the pass at Ravascietto, which would be a decent climb in other contexts, and where I will also look longingly at the turn-off for Monte Crostis, another infamous climb. From there I ride south to Ovaro, where the real climb begins.

The internet is already chock full of commentary on the Zoncolan, so I won’t add my own uninformed musings here. Instead, I will direct you to this nice video from the Col Collective.

Assuming I can get to the the composing hut in time after the Zoncolan, I will stop there before continuing up the Loiblpass to stay at Gasthof “Deutscher Peter,” an establishment mentioned the Baedeker guides Mahler used and which had already been in operation for a long time. The next day, May 14, is the day for the Loiblpass ride. The day after, I leave for Ljubljana in the morning, and will present my lecture on Mahler and cycling at the University (hosted graciously by Gregor Pompe). Two days later I will lecture on Darmstadt for the class of Steven Loy, an American conductor living in Slovenia, and who helped me make most of the initial connections in Ljubljana.

Carlos_KleiberIn between, on the 16th: If weather makes riding impossible on the 14th, I will try again for the Loiblpass ride. But if not, I have (at the suggestion of David Josephson) planned another fun ride leaving from Ljubljana. I will ride east along the river along the river Sava to the tiny village of Konjšica where the conductor Carlos Kleiber made his home and where he is now buried. And what do you know? There’s a huge climb from the river up to the village! The climb is 2.5 KM at 10%, likely with some much steeper stuff in the middle (but that could be the result of bad GPS data from google). Based on this comparison, it will probably be similar to Pack Monadnock in New Hampshire. Although, to make it a true pilgrimage, I should probably drive an Audi A8, not my bicycle.

Lake Misurina and the Tre Cime di Lavorado (Day 2)

For my second day in the Dolomites, the real riding begins. It will also be the first attempt to recreate a ride by Mahler. This one is from after the Loiblpass ride, in July, 1902. Here is the citation from de la Grange:

At the end of July Mahler took a break from work to visit Toblach in Southern Tyrol once more. From there we went, probably by bicycle, to Lake Misurina, at an altitude of 1,700 metres, and one of the loveliest places in the whole Dolomite range. He walked around the shore of the little lake looking up at the rugged peaks of the Cristallino, the Cadini, and the legendary Drei Zinnen. The beauty of the landscape moved him so much that he decided to return to it each summer, whenever he felt he needed a few days rest from composing.

My route starts by following the most direct route up to Lake Misurina, the one I imagine Mahler would have taken. That road looks to be rather busy, but not too steep. It starts with about 10k of false flats before kicking up a bit more for the final 8 or 9 km.

That is as far as Mahler went, but right at Lake Misurina, there is a turn-off for a rather famous climb from the Giro d’Italia. The climb goes up to the Rifugio Auronzo, but is known in the cycling world as the Tre Cime di Lavorado (the Drei Zinnen mentioned by de la Grange). In the Giro, however, the usual approach is from the south and Cortina d’Ampezzo, not Toblach. It was last used in 2013, when the stage was almost cancelled due to snow—meaning there’s a chance I won’t get up there. The summit is at 7600 feet!

Here is a video from the 2013 Giro, when Nibali won on the climb. I’m hoping for much better weather.

Giro d’Italia 2013: Tre Cime di Lavaredo from Galliolus on Vimeo.

After that ride, I pack up my car and leave for Sutrio.


Dobbiaco (Day 1)

If all goes as planned with my flights, I should arrive in Venice by 8:30. Assuming my bike arrives intact, I would hope to get to my car rental and be on the road by 10:00. Google maps estimates the drive at only about 2:30. The question of course is how much energy I’ll have left at that point, but even with a quick nap, I hope I can make it out for a quick ride that day and visit the Komponierhäuschen.

There are two decent climbs on that route. They both go up the ridge of hills on the northern side of Toblach, where there appears to be a bunch of mountain resorts and the like, but very few through roads that would go up to the border with Austria. The first—I’m calling it the Ratsberg, though one never knows if there’s a preferred local name—is the longer of the two.

This hill is going to hurt with jet-lag. It would be roughly comparable to the easy (western) side of Lincoln Gap, which is far from an easy climb. But with easy gears, I should manage it. It’s also an out-and-back (up-and-down?) climb, so I suppose I can cut it if I’m really not feeling up to the task.

The next climb goes up from the neighboring town of Niederdorf (Villabassa). (You’ll notice by the way, that all of these towns have both German and Italian names. The Italian names were applied during the Mussolini era for nationalistic reasons. From what I can tell, they’re used interchangeably and German is spoken almost as much as Italian in these parts.) The road name on Google maps, however is Montecosta, so that’s the name I used for the climb. According to the brentacol ratings, this one might actually be harder.

The 36% gradient (which would have a pretty significant effect on the ultimate rating) is almost certainly bogus. But even so, the hill tracks the Eastern (hard) side of Hurricane Mountain pretty closely, and that is a truly nasty climb.

And finally, here’s the short climb up to the composing hut.


Mahler’s Bicycle

If you read the piece I posted a while back call Mahler 5 Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race (now published in an updated form in a Festschrift for David Josephson), you will know that I have been working on a musicological project about Mahler and his bicycling activities. I have amassed a considerable trove of relevant information and this topic has now come to occupy most of my research and writing time. I will not here get into the specifics; however, I have recently learned that there are several other cyclist musicologists and composers out there, and many have requested to be kept apprised of my travel/research plans. And so, for the next several months, there may be a flurry of activity on this blog as I plan a trip to recreate a few of Mahler’s cycling excursions. I have just booked a plane ticket to Europe for May of 2017.

The ride which has become central to my research is the one mentioned in the previous post where Mahler tried to ride over the Loibl-Pass on the way from Maiernigg to Bled in Slovenia. Finding a ridiculously cheap flight to Venice, I will be making a tour from Toblach (Dobbiaco, or the site of Mahler’s final “Komponierhäuschen”) to Maiernigg to Ljubljana, with rides planned along the way. (Yes, I’m renting a car.) I’ll write individual posts about each ride complete with brentacol profiles, but for now, here is my rough itinerary.

May 10 – Fly BOS to VCE

May 11 – Arrive 8:45, Drive to Toblach. Short route planned (but with one rather significant climb): https://ridewithgps.com/routes/17636407

May 12 – Bigger ride, recreating one mentioned by de la Grange that Mahler did, up to Lake Misurina, but continuing up the mountain: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/17634751

Also visit the Koponierhäuschen, which is now stuck in the middle of a zoo.

May 13 – Leave Toblach. Stop for a “quick” jaunt up the Zoncolan. https://ridewithgps.com/routes/17634448

May 14 – Here things get more complicated. Weather permitting, this will be the day for the big ride: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/15589964

May 15 – Giving my lecture on Mahler and his bike for the at the University of Ljubljana, as a guest lecturer in a class of Gregor Pompe, coordinating with the Slovenian Musicological Society. Probably a short ride in the AM.

May 16 – In the event that rain or snow hampered the ride on the 14th, this will be the first chance to try again. If the ride was successful, then today will be spent exploring Mahler’s route in a little more detail, but a little more freely, starting from the Slovenian side.

May 17 – Lecture for the new music class of Steven Loy, on Darmstadt.

May 18 – Anniversary of Mahler’s death, third chance for the ride. Possible transfer back to Austria.

May 19 – One more day, drive to Venice, but with a possible ride and possible stop to ditch my bike in Austria along the way.

Stay tuned. There is a chance (which is why I may be leaving my bike in Austria at the end of this trip) that I will return for a separate event at the Steinbach composing hut in July. Fingers crossed.

Soap Stone Road

First some housekeeping: You may notice that the BRENTACOL gradient maps have been spruced up a bit. new font, new color scheme, and wider sections so that it’s easier to tell which sections the gradient numbers apply to. The maps are only updated if I do it manually, so some of the old style will probably be around for a while until i get them all changed over. I’m also working on re-designing the site’s overall theme, but that will take a bit longer. I may just incorporate it all into the blog layout, and make the BRENTACOL pages custom wordpress pages or something.

We’re in CT for the 4th of July weekend, so I planned a ride for this morning. There are many great options around Manchester, so I have a tendency to get stuck in ruts and just do the same thing every time. I either get in the car and drive north to ride at Mount Tom, or south to do repeats on West Peak in Meridan. The main draw for going to Meridan is that I usually get to stock up on German sausages at Noack’s on the way back–but they’re closed on Sundays, so that made that option much less appealing today. And if I opt to ride from Manchester, there are also good options, but Hatch Hill is such an excellent climb that I rarely do anything different than this one. But today I felt like changing things up and riding a bit longer, so I planned a ride going up to Ellington area and back home via Hatch Hill, 50 miles in all.

Browsing Ride With GPS I found a few large hills in the area and tried to plan my ride to get as many of those as possible. The first one I noticed was a short little dead-end road going up to a rather imposing looking peak. The road was called Soap Stone Road and it looked suspiciously like something that would either be dirt or completely impassible. Satellite view was not helpful, because the tree cover was such that the road was never visible. Thankfully, google street view showed that the road was indeed paved, and in fact looked rather nice. But to get to it, I routed over Parker Road, which was already in my database, but which I had never tried.


As the gradient map indicates, it’s a pretty tough hill. And unexpectedly, the last 100 meters or so is pretty messy dirt. I wasn’t sure whether to turn around, but pressed on, and aside from a rocky section, made it through to the other side without incident. Once over the other side, I went north a short way and turned into Soapstone State Park.


The road to the top is very nice, a little under a mile and steep but not ridiculous. It’s one of those climbs that looks harder than it feels, and that translates to: you feel pretty fast going up, even though the hill itself isn’t that difficult. There’s a gate at the top, with a short bit of road that goes up to the radio tower. But since you have to dismount, and it’s very short and you’re not even rewarded with a particularly nice view, I don’t think that last section is really worth doing. Possibly the best part of the climb is that the descent is easy and fast. Maybe it’s just me, but wide-open descents like Mount Lemmon or the Kanc freak me out. But I can cruise on something like this. I think this hill would be a great place for repeats for that reason.

And then I kept trying to talk myself out of doing Hatch Hill and taking a short cut back, but I didn’t listen. Not having my low gears today, it was a slog.

Off-Topic: Scott Rickard’s TEDx Talk About Music and Patterns

Sorry, I don’t have a musicology blog, so this will have to do.

I occasionally get roped into discussions when my friends find some bit of internet detritus that has some musicological bearing. Before yesterday, it was the horseshit known as “432 tuning,” which will apparently open your mind and make all of your music sound the way god intended it, or some such thing. The latest installment is a TEDx talk from 2011 by some guy named Scott Rickard who seems to know more about mathematics than music, but it’s really hard to tell. I can only guess that mathematicians roll there eyes with equal ferocity when composers try to expound on mathematical topics—something that happens far too frequently—but Jesus Christ, this talk is a mess. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

“Most musicologists would argue…”

Yes. Yes they would. Rickard starts his talk by asking a question that does not bode well for the rest of the talk: “What makes a piece of music beautiful?” In fact, it was at this point when this video was first posted, that I turned it off and replied to the post, “Can I give a TED talk where I just punch this guy in the face over and over.” But then another musicologist friend posted it with the provocative tag-line “too many problematic statements to enumerate here,” and I decided maybe it would be worth seeing exactly how bad it gets. Rickard immediately answers his question with the assertion that “Most musicologists would argue that repetition is a key aspect of beauty.” The simplest refutation to that statement is to say, no, musicologists do not agree. But if he had bothered to speak with a musicologist, he might have been surprised to know that we do not customarily spend our time trying to answer these sorts of questions. This is mostly because, as his talk so aptly shows, no good will come of it. Had he decided to make a TED talk coming to some conclusion about what makes music beautiful, maybe starting with a summary of Hanslick, that would have been bad enough. Instead, he just tells his audience that musicologists all know what makes music beautiful, and guess what? It’s repetition! Whew, glad we cleared that up.

“What would it sound like if we wrote a piece of music that had no repetition in it whatsoever?”

Umm. Ok. Sure, I guess this is not a trivial thing, and he gets to tell his audience some mathematical things that are I think supposed to convince us that he knows what he’s talking about. The main point of this section seems to be that random is not the same as pattern free. So if we play random notes on a piano, it’s not going to be as ugly as making something that has no pattern whatsoever. (Because, beauty and ugliness is exclusively a factor of how much repetition a piece contains, remember?) He goes on to talk about sonar and pings and hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh….oh, sorry, I just fell asleep with my hand on the keyboard. So to summarize, some famous mathematicians had to deal with making a non-patterning series of numbers to make sonar work properly. And for some reason he thinks its important to tell us about how Évariste Galois died in a duel in the process. He decides to show us a pattern-free array of the numbers between 1 and 88 because that’s how many notes there are on a piano.

“So today, we’re going to have the world premiere of the world’s first pattern-free piano sonata”

Ok, let’s just ignore the fact that a “piano sonata” is a form based on repetitions of themes and sections. Rickard wouldn’t be the first to break that particular rule, and I’m sure he won’t be the last.

“So back to the question of music, so, what makes music beautiful?”

Wait, I thought we covered this? Oh, I get it, we need some empirical scientific evidence to support our claim that repetition is what makes music beautiful. What is empirically and scientifically the most beautiful piece of music ever written?? Beethoven’s Fifth, of course. I guess I’m glad to see that scientists have no more idea how to apply scientific rigor to musical analysis than music theorists, I suppose. Let’s just go ahead and pretend that Beethoven 5 is the most beautiful piece of music ever written, and not, say, “Soave sia il vento.” That clearly means that, because the “fate knocking at the door” theme is repeated so much, that must be why it is the most beautiful. There’s clearly no other explanation. Why Beethoven didn’t figure out how to make his subsequent symphonies more repetitive instead of writing such ugly drivel like the Seventh is one of the great questions for musicology.

Ok, so Beethoven 5 is the most beautiful piece ever. Let’s make a continuum from there to the most ugly possible piece of music ever written or conceived. “Random music,” maybe Cage’s Music of Changes, is on that continuum, pretty far from Beethoven. It is pretty fucking ugly, after all. But according to our mathematical scheme, random is not the same as pattern free; we can make something much more ugly than Music of Changes. If you’re looking for a kernel of something in this talk that is not completely stupid, this is it. Yes. there is a difference between random music and the avoidance of patterns. Cage knew this very well, as does any musicologist or composer who works on later-20th century aleatoric music. The goal of chance music was very rarely the avoidance of patterns. But to suggest that this has anything to do with a quantifiable sense of “how beautiful a piece of music is”? Ugh.

“It turns out musicologists, a famous composer by the name of Arnold Schoenberg…”

This is the point in the talk when you need to be sure you don’t have any sharp implements at hand or you may find yourself trying to insert them into your eye-holes. He goes on to say that Schoenberg “thought of this in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.” I guess I can’t say for certain that Schoenberg never though about this in the “1930s, 40s, and 50s” though I’m guessing he probably didn’t think about it very often in the 50s given that he died in 1951. I’m not a mind reader, after all. I think about all sorts of stupid things on any given day, so who knows. He goes on, “His goal as a composer was to write music that would free music from tonal structure. He called it the emancipation of the dissonance.” Sure, I guess. Given what Rickard has said so far, I’m not going to quibble that one. He goes on to say that Schoenberg created these structures called “tone rows, that sound a lot like a ‘Costas Array.’” He points to one in his powerpoint slide. He fails to mention that those tone rows are repeated over and over, and that the goal Schoenberg had in mind was to create thematic unity, i.e. repetition, not the avoidance of patterns. In terms of Schoenberg’s “motivation,” the goal was probably closer to taking Beethoven 5 and letting it smoke crack. So Schoenberg’s 12-tone pieces are actually the most beautiful pieces ever written. Nice to clear that up. He goes on, “Unfortunatley [Schoenberg] died 10 years before Costas solved the problem of how you can mathematically create these structures.” Poor Schoenberg. If only he had lived, he could have realized his dream of writing music completely devoid of patterns, since we all know Schoenberg’s goal was to write the ugliest piece of music ever. Oh, for fuck’s sake. Thank god it’s over at this point, and he goes on to actually have someone play his piece.

The piece, by the way, is exactly what you’d expect from a mathematician who has decided to write the ugliest piece of music he can imagine. It’s not so much ugly as dumb. And, oh yeah, it totally fails to do what he says it will, because he’s never heard of the idea of pitch class. And because he thinks we hear music in the same way we read a mathematical chart. I mean, Jesus, do I really have to explain this shit. OK, it seems like I do. The pitch class issues mean that while he’s cycling through the 88 notes of the piano as if they are all equally discrete things, there are actually only 12 different pitch classes. So while there may be no pattern to the distribution of the 88 discrete notes, there will almost certainly be unintended patterns to the repetition of pitch classes. Here, for example are the first 12 notes of his piece (I wrote a little php program to generate the piece here.)

1 – A
3 – B
9 – F
27 – B
81 – F
65 – C-Sharp
17 – C-Sharp
51 – B
64 – C
14 – A-Sharp
42 – D
37 – A

You can already see a nice B-F-B-F pattern followed by an octave leap on the C-Sharp, before returning to another B. There’s lots of that kind of thing in the piece. He at least tried to deal with rhythm by using a “Golomb ruler so that the starting time for each pair of notes is distinct as well.” I think he meant to say that the spacing between each note is different, since just playing all the notes in succession will make sure that no two notes are played at the same time. But this slip isn’t just a problem of clarity. He’s just revealed that he has no idea how music works. For one thing, he ignored the entire problem of harmony. No notes happen simultaneously, and the reason seems to be that he just didn’t think about it. Sure the spacing is inconsistent, but it is completely linear. To believe that listeners will not hear patterns (“revel in the fact that you won’t find any,” he says) ignores the way that humans listen to music. Ignoring the previously mentioned pitch class issues, we do not recognize patterns solely in terms of pitch repetitions. In an atonal context such as this, one typically recognizes contours before pitch. And the contours of this piece are actually quite predictable because of the way that the pitches were generated. The piece is really just a very simplistic algorthmic composition. To describe the algorithm quickly, you start at the bottom note (starting at the bottom also creates a certain teleology…but I digress) (oh, and sorry, another digression, there is also a clear teleology to the idea that the performer is playing all 88 notes in succession), you multiply that number (1) by three to pick the next note. You keep doing that until you get a note above the upper limit of 88. You then subtract 89 until you get back to a note below 88, in this case 65, and start over. The next note is 195, again above the 88 limit, so subtracting 89 twice gets you back to 17, followed by 51, and so on. This creates a pattern to the contour of the piece. Any note below 29 (C-sharp 3) will be followed by a higher note. Notes above that threshold might go up or down, but the generating principle causes there to be a rising trajectory through most of the gestures. And for god’s sake, there’s almost a step progression up to the highest note (88, high C). Here, look for yourself.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 3.46.10 PM

Mahler’s Fifth Symphony Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race

“I want to see who can make a program for my Fifth!”

Gustav Mahler to Richard Batka, 1905


Procrastinating real work, I decided to write a short creative project, which does in fact come out of my most recent research. I discovered a year ago at AMS that Gustav Mahler was not only a cyclist, but also had a penchant for ill-advised excursions up mountains. On one occassion, he apparently tried to ascend the Loiblpass just south of his summer home in Maiernigg. According to the story recounted by Natalie Bauer-Lechner, he thought he was about to reach the summit when he realized he still had “1000 meters” left to climb. At this point he paid a boy to push his bike up the road while he took a short cut, and almost killed himself trying to claw his way up a drainage gully. I’m currently researching the type of bike he would have used, following up on the story, and putting together his probable route. The next step will be to figure out how and whether this has any impact on his music, but the 5th Symphony, written immediately after the incident just mentioned, seems like fertile ground. I chose a title for such a study: “Mahler’s Fifth Symphony Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race,” a reference to The Passion Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race” by Alfred Jarry (1905). J.G. Ballard also wrote a parody of that work, “The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race.”

And so what follows is my own parody, which will nonetheless reveal certain ways that I think a cycling-related program can be imposed on that symphony. The recordings referenced are: Hermann Scherchen, Philadelphia Orchestra (1964); Bruno Walter, New York Philharmonic (1947), Bernstein, New York Philharmonic (1963); Hans Rosbaud, Cologne Radio Ochestra (1951); and Bruno Maderna, RAI Milano (1973).

Klemperer, slated to race, was scratched.

The announcer, having listed the participants, gave the cue to begin. Scherchen, already on a bad footing, missed his first pedal stroke and almost ended his race at the start. He recovered with a strong second stroke and began his pursuit.

The race began with a “strictly measured” neutral start, but this did not stop the opportunistic competitors from trying to gain an advantage.

Walter took an early lead.

Italian mechanics being notoriously deficient, failed to tune Maderna’s machine prior to the race.

In those days, according to the excellent sports commentator Kalbeck, it was customary for the racers to begin by paying homage to colleagues who had fallen off on the previous day’s racing. For this race, and because of particular carnage in the previous week, organizers took the unorthodox step of beginning the race with a “funeral march.”

The course for the day had a somewhat unusual profile; the climb consisted of a lower peak followed by a quick descent and a false flat, followed by a long climb up to the higher elevation that constituted the day’s finish. In this, the climb was not dissimilar to the popular combination of the Col du Telegraph and the Col du Galibier used frequently in the Tour de France. The course had been designed in 1904 by the famous race organizer, Gustav Mahler.

Indeed, though this exact course has been used many times subsequently, there is always some confusion as to whether the course should be divided into three or five sections, as sectors one and two, and four and five seem to flow naturally into each other. There were however, five clearly marked “time-checks” including the summit finish.

The competitors were more or less riding in a group formation as they reached the first turn. Here things got suddenly faster. One might even say the races began riding wildly, or passionately.

And here, already, came the first attack of the day. Scherchen leapt out of his saddle and began riding so quickly that his wheels had trouble keeping in contact with the ground, and many spectators had the feeling he would simply veer off the road altogether. Rosbaud made a quick chase followed by Maderna and Bernstein. Walter kept his cool and, knowing that others would crack, and gradually brought the breakaway back, and subsequently rode them off his wheel.

Maderna, meanwhile, was somewhat distracted by the group of Mariachi trumpeters that greeted his arrival at the same turn.

At the first time-check, Walter crossed with a substantial lead, followed closely by Rosbaud who recovered well from a slow start, then Bernstein. Maderna just edged out Scherchen to round out the top five.

The section following, which led up to the first major peak of the day, also saw a storm descend on the race. The racers responded with the greatest of vehemence.

The less-experienced riders were surprised upon reaching the second time-check that this was not, in fact, the finish to the day’s racing; many who rode too hard during this section found themselves dispirited when when the road turned suddenly downward and they realized they still had over 1000 meters of climbing in front of them.

The standings changed little between the first and second time checks. Walter, continuing his blistering pace added over a minute to his lead. meanwhile a flat tire all but ended Bernstein’s day, and he crossed the line forty seconds behind Scherchen.

The course guide for the day warned riders not to dismiss the section from time check two to three, but many nevertheless considered it a “joke,” or “scherzo” as the Italian riders were fond of saying.

Walter’s seemingly unassailable dominance persuaded a dispirited Scherchen to dismount his bicycle. He handed the machine to a spectator and took an ill-advised shortcut by foot, missing over half of the race course in this section. The other competitors immediately lodged a formal complaint.

The spectator, meanwhile caught a lift from a race official and met Scherchen near the third time check with bike in hand. Scherchen emerged from the side of the road, having almost fallen to his death scrambling up a smooth water drainage gully. Some have speculated that Scherchen’s motivations were not as nefarious as they may have seemed, and that he fancied himself more of a race organizer than a bicycle racer.

At the third time check, Scherchen now had a commanding, though contested, lead. Having lost almost ten minutes, Walter now trailed Scherchen by six and a half minutes. Walter, who had been well in front when Scherchen made his short-cut, only found out about the deception as he crossed the line. His pride, however, prevented him from relying on official sanction, and resolved to win the race in spite of the loss of time. He set off in pursuit of Scherchen, the others now well behind.

The next section, by far the most beautiful aesthetically, nevertheless contained potential pitfalls for the competitors. Its terrain is a long “false-flat” where a fit rider can push a large gear, but a tired rider can easily come to grief. A famous sports commentator, and partisan of the so-called Frankfurt school of bicycle racing, found this entire section too “pretty,” and was heard muttering something about its “ingratiating sound.”

And here, Walter’s persistence paid off: Scherchen, clearly winded from his cross-country excursion took nearly twice as long to arrive at the fourth time check. Indeed, it is said that no other professional cyclist has ever taken longer to travel that section of road, even Scherchen on his previous attempt at the same course with a rickety state-issued Viennese bicycle.

At the fourth and final time check before the finishing climb, Walter was now again in the lead. A very tired-looking Scherchen crossed the line a minute later, followed by Rosbaud four minutes after that. Bernstein though not quick, managed to pass a faltering Maderna just before the line.

Walter set off in search of glory, his victory now all but assured. While he was not the fastest on the day through this section, Walter climbed well. Bernstein, surprisingly, was about 10 seconds faster than Walter, and over a minute faster than Rosbaud. Rosbaud, however, still had enough of a buffer that his podium place was never in danger. Maderna, no longer caring about overall victory, stopped to admire the stunning vistas and finished last of the favorites.

Walter, near the summit, slowed to wave at his ecstatic fans. Meanwhile, Scherchen made an amazing recovery–amazing enough that he has always been suspected of pharmaceutical enhancement. As Walter went under the one-kilometer-to-go banner, a sprinting Scherchen flew past on his way to victory. Walter slammed his fists on his handlebars in disgust as he crossed the line.

The results are contested.


Just when you think you know all the hills in Rhode Island. I put together a nice new route today, heading out over Capron, Mountaindale, Pine Hill, before heading towards the Scituate Reservoir via Gleaner Chapel, another hill I discovered relatively recently. Feeling good today, I set personal records on a bunch of the hills, picking up a Strava KOM on Gleaner Chapel. (I missed the KOM on the hotly contested Capron by 1 second…) From Gleaner Chapel, I wound my way back via Peck Hill Road, which was new to me. Not the most scenic road, at least not by traditional standards. You do get many exciting views of the Johnston Landfill – the whole stretch seems somewhat post-apocalyptic.

From there, the last event of the day was Ipswitch St., an intriguingly steep little climb I discovered on Strava. I knew it was steep going in, but was still rather unprepared for what I found. Here is what I expected:

ipswitchWhich is to say a tough, but sustained 12% climb, with a steeper part in the middle. The climb starts on Monson St, which takes a tight left turn. You can tell that there’s a steep hill in front, but you can’t see Ipswitch until you make right turn and see a very steep, very narrow road in front of you. But “sustained” isn’t really the right word. The next section is comprised of two distinct sections of (probably) 20%. You think when you get to the top of that and the road swings to the left again, that you’re done, but instead it levels off briefly before kicking up to the 20s again. That last section really hurts. Needless to say, I’ll be headed back to try it again when it’s not the last hill of the day. Almost certainly one of the hardest in the state, in the same league as Jenckes and South Court. Probably slightly easier than Jenckes, slightly harder than South Court. Brentacol has now been updated with a more accurate (but still not quite representative of what it actually felt like):



Case Mountain and Hop River Trail

Easier day on the bike today for my second day in CT. This time I put cross tires on the bike before hitting some nice dirt in the Manchester area. I’ve had the Strava KOM on the Case Mountain segment since back in 2010 when I first got the cross bike (or to be precise, I didn’t get the segment until I joined strava and uploaded all of my old rides last year sometime). I always figured I would lose it at some point and indeed, my time is now only holding the lead by a mere second. So I figured that now I’m back in shape I should go out and see what I could do about lengthening my lead. But as I discovered yesterday when I was only able to beat my Mount Tom time from a similar period, I was actually in decent shape back in the fall of 2010.

Add to that, Case Mountain is a mess (which is also probably why people haven’t been lining up to steal my KOM). Since the last time, there’s a massive construction project on the bridge at the bottom, so just getting to the climb is a chore. And the trail surface is greatly deteriorated, now featuring many ruts and larger rocks in the trail. I rode it as hard as I could, but about 1/2 way up, I was a bit confused about which way the trail was turning, hit a patch of loose rocks, and was forced to unlcip. I was in a pretty easy gear and it took me a while to get the momentum/balance I needed to get going again. Kept going to the top. Later in the ride I tried to calculate whether I might have gotten it since I forgot to set a lap. I figured the total time for the climb was about 1/2 Mount Tom, which I had managed to beat by a minute, so if I rode it perfectly I might expect to shave 30 seconds off the time. I guessed my mishap in the middle probably cost me about 30 seconds, so I figured it would be a wash and could go either way. When I checked at home, I missed the KOM by 4 seconds. Oh well.

Then I rode the Hop River Trail, which is luxuriously smooth and fast on a cross bike. It gets a little bumpier the further east you go, but there are also fewer other riders/walkers, so it’s easier to cruise.