Monday, April 21, 2008

Turrists in the Rue Morgue! (with quiz)

From Somerset comes a note reminding us that there's more to the BBC than just strange misunderstandings of science. There's also room for "fatuous cultural prejudice" (nicely put, Graham), as in this example from Saturday:

Next-door-neighbour Rachel Clifford told BBC News that she met the suspect only recently, after she knocked on the door to complain about loud, Islamic-sounding music.

"Islamic-sounding music," you say? That's worth a bit of a detour into the land of cultural generalization, leading to the quiz below. Turning the generically "foreign" into a specific kind of foreign isn't new, but it does happen in interesting ways. One of the cool points of Poe's* "Murders in the Rue Morgue" is that the mystery voice is heard to be speaking in a different language by all the alleged witnesses, but it's always a language (those damn Spaniards/Russians/Englishmen!) the witness doesn't speak.

For our times, of course, the other-of-choice is "the Middle East." It used to be sort of a parlor game on the copy desk: When a terrified mall vendor tells the reporter she heard a man with a "Middle Eastern accent," try to figure out which bad movie she had in mind when she conjured up the accent -- bearing in mind, of course, that the same guy can be a "Middle Eastern terrorist" in one movie and a Salvadoran army officer in another.

What, then, might this "Islamic-sounding music" sound like? Let's nominate the utterly cool Ellington/Tizol tune "Caravan." Really weird and Middle Eastern, right -- like there's only a half-step between the first two notes of the scale or something?** So for tonight's quiz:

1) What's a common name for the mode that shows up at the beginning of "Caravan"?
2) Which continent do we trace that mode to?
3) Which of the great Abrahamic faiths is that mode associated with?

Have at it.

* Oh, go on. Pretend you're the New York Times and try to spell his middle name right. All the cool kids are doing it.
** Sounds more deceitful than it is; there's a 12-bar vamp on the V chord before you get to the real home key.

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