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Posts Tagged ‘electronic music

“I can kind of envision maybe one person with a lot of machines, tapes, and electronics set up, singing or speaking and using machines”*…

 

radiophonics

 

In 1957, just before the broadcast of a radio show called Private Dreams and Public Nightmares, a warning was sent to BBC engineers. “Don’t attempt to alter anything that sounds strange,” it said. “It’s meant to sound that way.” The BBC was also worried about the public. Donald McWhinnie, the programme’s maker, made an explanatory statement, ending with the cheerful signoff: “One thought does occur – would it not be more illuminating to play the whole thing backwards?”

Radiophonic sound was now in the public domain. A year later, to the bewilderment of many, the BBC dedicated a whole workshop to this avant-garde stuff, even giving it a home in an old ice rink: Maida Vale Studios. Years later, the Queen, shaking hands with the Workshop’s creator, Desmond Briscoe, would confirm its universal success with the words: “Ah yes, Doctor Who.”**

But what is radiophonic sound – and why did it need a workshop? Radiophonics owes everything to the invention of the tape recorder. Once you could capture sound, using a workable material, you could play with it: slow it down until it thundered, feed it back on itself until it shrieked and echoed, or simply slice bits out. However extreme these experiments became, there was always something eerily familiar to the ear, because they were made from real objects or events…

The story of the BBC’s storied Radiophonics Workshop: “Now for a lampshade solo: how the Radiophonic Workshop built the future of sound.”

* Jim Morrison in a 1969 interview, when asked about the future of music

** For the story of the remarkable Delia Derbyshire [left in the photo above], who arranged and performed (on an oscilloscope) Ron Grainger’s composition for the theme of Doctor Who, see here and here.  And not that you need reminding, hear the original Doctor Who theme here.

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As we appreciate audio, we might recall that it was on this date in 1981, with the words “Ladies and Gentlemen, rock and roll,” that MTV premiered.  The first video featured on the new cable channel was The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.”  Indeed.

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Written by LW

August 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

“We got the beat”*…

 

The drum machine is one of the most effective musical inventions of our time. It’s affordable, easy to use, and ruthless in its precision, able to do exactly what it’s been told for as long as required (so long as you’ve got an AC adaptor). Of course, not everybody warms to the drum machine’s big plastic buttons and bright LED screen…

Starting from the Italian Futurists, “A Brief History of the Drum Machine in Rock Music.”

* The Go-Gos

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As we lay in the loop, we might recall that it was on this date in 1990 that NARAS stripped Milli Vanilli of the Grammy that they had won earlier that year.  One of the most popular pop acts in the late 1980s, their album debut album Girl You Know It’s True achieved international success and earned them the Grammy for Best New Artist.  But when it was revealed that neither of the duo (Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus) had actually sung lead vocals on the albums songs, the award was withdrawn.  The group recorded a comeback album, Back and in Attack, in 1998, but Rob Pilatus died before the album was released.

Milli Vanilli at the 1990 Grammys

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Written by LW

November 19, 2015 at 1:01 am

Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood…

Consider the case of Gregor Mendel:

You probably know Mendel as the guy who pioneered the science of genetics… Anybody with a high school diploma has filled out those dominant/recessive trait Punnett squares … … though astute readers are probably wondering why that technique is called a Punnett square if it predicts patterns Mendel discovered.

What you probably didn’t know was that before making his revolutionary discovery, Gregor Mendel flunked out of school and resigned himself to a quiet life as the abbot of a monastery. It had an extensive experimental garden and there Mendel patiently spent the next seven years of his life breeding and cross-breeding peas.

He carefully documented his work and developed what would eventually be known as Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance. Then he wrote it up and got it published in an lesser-known journal, the Journal of the Brno Natural History Society in 1866.

His genius was rewarded by … A quiet life of complete anonymity. Mendel’s work was read by about zero people, even after he took it upon himself to contact the highest minds of his time by personally sending them copies of his theory… Why did they ignore him? Because the greatest minds of his time couldn’t understand him. It wasn’t until 16 years after his death that three independent botanists rediscover Mendel’s work and started the genetics ball rolling.

Read a more colorfully-worded version of Mendel’s story, and the tales of four other scientific pioneers, in “5 Famous Scientists Dismissed as Morons in Their Time.”

[Special Holiday Bonus:  The Animals singing this post’s title song]

As we reconsider the advice we got from the wild-eyed gentleman standing in the DMV line this morning, we might recall that it was on this date in 1900 that Nature reported the development of the first fully-electric musical instrument, the Musical Arc (or Singing Arc) developed by English physicist and engineer William Dudell.

Before Edison “invented” the electric light bulb in the United States, electric street lighting was in wide use throughout Europe; the carbon arc lamp generated light by creating a spark between two carbon nodes. But this method of lighting produced an annoying constant humming noise from the electric arc.  Duddell, who was appointed to solve the problem in London in 1899,  found that by varying the voltage supplied to the lamps he could create controllable audible frequencies from a resonant circuit caused by the rate of pulsation of exposed electrical arcs.  He attached a keyboard to the arc lamps– and created the first electronic instrument that was audible without using the yet-to-be-invented amplifier or loudspeaker.

Duddell– who also invented the moving-coil oscillograph (an early oscillator-type device for the photographic monitoring of audio frequency waveforms), the thermo-ammeter, thermo-galvanometer (an instrument for measuring minute currents and potential differences later used for measuring antenna currents and still used in modified form today), and a magnetic standard (used for the calibration of ballistic galvanometers)–  never patented his discovery.

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