Hero explores Vietnam War experiences

play/ Vietnam war

Undergraduate Eamon Foley created a major performance work that explored the Vietnam War and featured performances by fellow Princeton students, PHOTO COURTESY OF THE LEWIS CENTER FOR THE ARTS

FOR HIS SENIOR THESIS, Eamon Foley combined indie rock music, dance, aerial choreography and ethnographic research to create an original theater-dance piece titled Hero, which tells the story of a young man transformed by his experiences in the Vietnam War.

The senior thesis is a major research or creative work required of all Princeton undergraduates. Foley’s thesis, featuring a cast of fellow Princeton students, was performed April 25 through May 1, 2015, at the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Matthews Acting Studio, the Program in Theater’s black box theater.

The script is based on Foley’s interviews with Vietnam veterans and other research, including his visit to Vietnam in summer 2014. “I spent a lot of time studying ethnography — the idea of gathering information through interview,” said Foley, who graduated in 2015 with an anthropology degree and a theater certificate. “I thought this would be a great way to look at where anthropology and theater meet.”

A documentary about the experience of creating Hero, by Danielle Alio and Jamie Saxon, takes viewers through Foley’s 10-month creative journey, from early fall 2014 when he had no script, no choreography and no cast — just “a lot of great ideas bouncing around in my head” — through opening night.

-By Danielle Alio and Jamie Saxon

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Emotional map illuminates an iconic rock song

Gilad Cohen

Gilad Cohen, a graduate student in music composition, analyzed the songs of the English rock band Pink Floyd. (Photo by David Kelly Crow)

IN A TYPICAL ROCK SONG, a few chords and a simple rhythm form the foundation for catchy lyrics that carry the listener along for three or four minutes. Expand these elements into a 20-minute song, and the result should be boring.

Yet songs of this length were common for progressive rock bands in the late 1960s and 1970s. Most of these extra-long songs were actually collections of “sub-songs” — sequences of disparate musical ideas, according to Gilad Cohen, a graduate student in music composition. As part of his dissertation research, Cohen analyzed the expanded songs of the ever-popular English rock band Pink Floyd.

The 1975 Pink Floyd song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is 26 minutes long. “And it’s all in the same key,” Cohen said. “The rhythm is very simple. You have a few chord progressions, and they just repeat themselves again and again.”

But the song is anything but boring. “There’s a very clever, detailed arrangement process that makes this music interesting, and allows it to maintain momentum throughout a long stretch of time,” Cohen said. The arrangement includes motivic development — the alteration or repetition of a motif throughout a piece of music — and the layering of instruments, in addition to the use of studio effects such as reverb and delay, innovative tools at the time.

“Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is a tribute to Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd’s former leader. Barrett left the band in 1968 due to mental illness, which was likely exacerbated by his use of LSD and the intense pressure he felt to create hits. Cohen views the song as an emotional journey through the stages of grief, an expression of the band’s sense of loss.

A "bereavement map" for Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" reveals which parts of the song express each of the five stages of grief - numbness, yearning, anger, mourning and acceptance.

A “bereavement map” for Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” reveals which parts of the song express each of the five stages of grief – numbness, yearning, anger, mourning and acceptance.

To better understand how the sounds reflect these emotions, Cohen created a “bereavement map” showing which parts of the song express each of the five stages of grief — numbness, yearning, anger, mourning and acceptance. Like the real grieving process, the progression is not exactly linear.

Numbness, for example, is represented by drawn-out, improvised keyboard and guitar solos built around a single chord. Then, the guitar plays the song’s famous four-note “yearning motif,” in which the last note doesn’t quite belong with the rest. “It sounds like it wants to go somewhere,” Cohen said. “Pink Floyd is amazing at creating this tension.” Later, the same melody is played in two different rhythms, which alternately impart feelings of yearning and anger.

“Rock music is starting to have its day in the sun in musicological scholarship,” said Scott Burnham, the Scheide Professor of Music History and Cohen’s dissertation adviser. “Gilad’s work is timely, and it’s coming from a really great place — namely, his work as a musician and composer.”

Cohen shared his passion for Pink Floyd by organizing the first academic conference on the band’s music, “Pink Floyd: Sound, Sight and Structure,” which was held at Princeton in April 2014, and was co-organized by Dave Molk, a fellow graduate student in composition. The event’s keynote speaker was James Guthrie, Pink Floyd’s producer and engineer.

Cohen said he was inspired by the reactions of students, scholars and “hardcore fans” who attended the conference. “They’re really starved for this kind of knowledge. They listen differently to the music now,” Cohen said. “If I can expand someone’s enjoyment of music they’ve listened to throughout their lives, that’s a big thrill.”

–By Molly Sharlach

360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story by Sean Wilentz

360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story

Professor Sean Wilentz tells the story of Columbia Records’ rich history and the creation of some of the greatest albums ever made.

For 125 years, Columbia Records has remained one of the most vibrant and storied names in prerecorded sound, nurturing the careers of legends such as Bessie Smith, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé and many more.

Written by Sean Wilentz, Princeton’s George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History, 360 Sound tells the story of the label’s rich history as it interweaves threads of technical and social change with the creation of some of the greatest albums ever made. The lavishly illustrated book contains over 300 rare and revealing images from the Columbia archives. Wilentz is a preeminent historian whose work spans music, politics and the arts.


Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2012 (Cover image and text courtesy of the publisher.)

Big hair brings to life a 17th-century satire

Bigwig character photo

Gary Fox, Class of 2013, played the title role in Der Bourgeois Bigwig. In the background is Nathalie Ellis-Einhorn, Class of 2016, as the enthusiastic lackey. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Extravagant wigs and sumptuous costumes serve as metaphors that breathe life into the social satire of Der Bourgeois Bigwig, a new adaptation of a 17th-century comedy by Molière that pokes fun at both the pretentious middle-class and the snobbish aristocracy.

A production of Princeton’s Lewis Center for the Arts and the Department of Music, Der Bourgeois Bigwig tells the story of a wealthy merchant who aspires to become an aristocrat, but who only succeeds in looking foolish and falling prey to con artists. The adaptation was created by playwright James Magruder, who served during 2012-13 as Princeton’s Class of 1932 Visiting Lecturer in Theater, and is based on Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme as well as a 1912 musical version by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Der Bürger als Edelmann.

Performed for the first time in fall 2012, the play was directed by Tim Vasen, director of the Program in Theater. Michael Pratt, director of the Program in Musical Performance, conducted the Princeton University Orchestra. Performed by an all-student cast, the Bigwig production was also a credited course, taught by Vasen.

“Our production was a 21st-century English language version of an early- 20th-century German musical adaptation of a late-17th-century French play,” said Vasen. “Yet, the story, the themes, the satire and jabs at pretense to a higher perceived social class resonate as vividly today as they did over 300 years ago.”

The title role was played by Gary Fox, Class of 2013, who earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry with certificates in French and theater. His classmate, Lily Akerman, who earned her bachelor’s degree in comparative literature with certificates in creative writing and theater, choreographed the production. New York-based designer Anya Klepikov created the set and costumes, with lighting design by Jane Cox, a lecturer in theater and the Lewis Center for the Arts.

-By Steve Runk

Princeton sound lab pushes boundaries of realism

Edgar Choueiri creates illusions with sound. He can conjure a distant trumpet or a voice whispering in your ear, but there is nothing there.

“[Author] Arthur C. Clarke said any technology, if sufficiently advanced, appears to be magic,” said Choueiri, a Princeton professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Choueiri’s BACCH™ system, which produces 3-D sound from a pair of ordinary speakers, can create the sound of a buzzing fly circling your head so realistic that the urge to swat is almost irresistible. The BACCH™ 3-D Sound technology is now available to consumers as a built-in feature of the Jambox™, a wireless speaker made by Jawbone, Inc. Choueiri is expanding his research with support from Sony Corp. During the three-year effort, his team will seek to push the boundaries of sound reproduction and create a sound space so realistic that it can be used as a basis for virtual reality.

“Imagine sitting on a beach, plugging your earphones into your MP3 player and on top of the waves, you have a choir,” he said. “Or walking down the street and having your favorite band walking along with you.”

An expert in plasma physics, Choueiri’s primary research is on developing a high-powered plasma rocket system for future missions to Mars. The development of his sound lab was originally supported through the engineering school’s Project X funding, which is designed to allow faculty members to pursue unconventional ideas including those outside their primary field.

“The substantial support that Edgar is now receiving from Sony exemplifies the surprising innovations that can emerge when experts are given the freedom to explore and cross disciplines,” said H. Vincent Poor, the dean of Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.


Lost and found: Prokofiev’s score for Eugene Onegin

Prokofiev’s lost score

Princeton music scholar Simon Morrison found Sergei Prokofiev’s lost score for a banned production of the Russian classic Eugene Onegin. (Image courtesy of Sergei
Prokofiev Estate)

A banned adaptation of an important novel-in-verse. A lost score with 44 parts. A wait of nearly 80 years. These are the challenging elements that came together for Princeton’s staging of the classic Russian tale Eugene Onegin. Simon Morrison, a professor of music, rediscovered composer Sergei Prokofiev’s lost score for the production in a Russian archive. The score was intended as incidental music for a stage adaptation by Russian writer Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky of Alexander Pushkin’s novel-in-verse. The stage production was halted and banned in 1936 by Josef Stalin’s Soviet regime. Morrison worked with other faculty members to bring the score to life at a four-day musical conference held at Princeton in February 2012. The productions included a symphony performance of the music by the Princeton Symphony Orchestra and a theatrical performance of Krzhizhanovsky’s play. Morrison also worked with Caryl Emerson, the A. Watson Armour III University Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, and Tim Vasen, a lecturer and acting director of the Program in Theater, to stage the project as well as use the text and music for academic purposes.