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Posts Tagged ‘music

“To suffer the penalty of too much haste, which is too little speed”*…

 

Johann-Sebastian-Bach

Pop and rap aren’t the only two genres speeding up in tempo in the breakneck music-streaming era: The quickening of pace seems to be affecting even the oldest forms of the art. Per research this weekend from two record labels, classical music performances of J.S. Bach have also gotten faster, speeding up as much as 30 percent in the last half century…

The fascinating details– and a hypothesis as to what’s going on– at “Even Classical Music Is Getting Faster These Days.”

*Plato

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As we pick up the pace, we might wish a harmonious Happy Birthday to Aaron Copland; the composer, writer, teacher, and conductor was born on this date in 1900.  Known to his peers and critics as “the Dean of American Composers,” his signature open, slowly-changing harmonies– e.g., in “Appalachian Spring“–  are typical of what many consider the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit.

220px-Aaron_Copland_1970 source

 

Written by LW

November 14, 2018 at 1:01 am

“So sa-a-a-ad that you’re leaving”*…

 

autotune-header-edit2

It happened exactly 36 seconds into the song—a glimpse of the shape of pop to come, a feel of the fabric of the future we now inhabit. The phrase “I can’t break through” turned crystalline, like the singer suddenly disappeared behind frosted glass. That sparkly special effect reappeared in the next verse, but this time a robotic warble wobbled, “So sa-a-a-ad that you’re leaving.”

The song, of course, was Cher’s “Believe,” a worldwide smash on its October 1998 release. And what we were really “leaving” was the 20th century.

The pitch-correction technology Auto-Tune had been on the market for about a year before “Believe” hit the charts, but its previous appearances had been discreet, as its makers, Antares Audio Technologies, intended. “Believe” was the first record where the effect drew attention to itself…

And an era was born.  We’ve looked at Auto-Tune before (see here for an example of the difference the technology can make, here, and here); now, from our friends at Pitchfork, an in-depth history of the most important pop innovation of the last 20 years: “How Auto-Tune Revolutionized the Sound of Popular Music.”

* Cher, “Believe”

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As we pine for authentic imperfection, we might recall that it was on this date in 1901 that the Victor Talking Machine Company was incorporated.  A phonograph manufacturer and record company, it operated on disc record patents that it soon licensed to the Columbia Record Company as well (reinforcing Victor’s position as the leading phonograph manufacturer).  In 1929, Victor was merged into RCA.

 

Written by LW

October 3, 2018 at 1:01 am

“One of These Days”*…

 

Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground at The Record Plant on May 6, 1969, during a session for VU. L to R: Doug Yule, Lou Reed, Maureen Tucker, Sterling Morrison, engineer Gary Kellgren

 

The Velvet Underground album VU is the binding agent in a career of releases that differ so dramatically one from another as to be almost artistic reversals. VU has the dark majesty of The Velvet Underground & Nico, the neurotic strut (if not the head-wrecking dissonance) of White Light/White Heat, the tenderness and emotional insight of The Velvet Underground, and the pure pop sensibility of Loaded. In its 10 tracks, it contains refined versions of what the band did well during the four years they lasted. The irony is that VU wasn’t released until more than a dozen years after the Velvet Underground disbanded.

Recorded primarily in 1969, after the ouster of multi-instrumentalist John Cale, and later cannibalized by principal songwriter Lou Reed for his solo career, the recordings that make up VU were shelved for 16 years. They stayed in the MGM vaults, mostly unmixed, until discovered during the process of reissuing the band’s catalog in the early 80s. As a result, VU benefitted from much improved audio technology and was released to a world not only better prepared for the Velvet Underground, but one that had largely absorbed its lessons. The album made a beautiful tombstone for the band’s career, at a time when all the members were alive to see it…

The story of an epic album that almost never was: “Shelved: The Velvet Underground’s Fourth Album.”

* Lou Reed (title of one of the cuts on VU)

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As we slip on the headphones, we might recall that it was on this date in 1973 that Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert premiered on U.S. television, featuring a performance by the Rolling Stones. It ran until 1981.

Don-Kirshner-logo-red-SM-v1 source

 

Written by LW

September 27, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Take a sad song and make it better”*…

 

A rehearsal of the musical <i>Hair</i> at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, September 1968

A rehearsal of Hair.  Premiered in late 1967; photo taken, 1968

 

Certain years acquire an almost numinous quality in collective memory—1789, 1861, 1914. One of the more recent additions to the list is 1968. Its fiftieth anniversary has brought a flood of attempts to recapture it—local, national, and transnational histories, anthologies, memoirs, even performance art and musical theater. Immersion in this literature soon produces a feeling of déjà vu, particularly if one was politically conscious at the time (as I was).

Up to a point, repetition is inevitable. Certain public figures and events are inescapable: the tormented Lyndon Johnson, enmeshed in an unpopular, unwinnable war and choosing to withdraw from the presidential stage; the antiwar candidacies of Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy; the intensifying moral challenges posed by Martin Luther King; the assassinations of King and Kennedy; the racially charged violence in most major cities; the police riot against antiwar protesters (and anyone else who got in their way) at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; the emergence of right-wing candidates—George Wallace, Richard Nixon—appealing to a “silent majority” whose silence was somehow construed as civic virtue. And the anticlimactic election: the narrow defeat of Hubert Humphrey by Nixon, who promised to “bring us together” without specifying how.

What togetherness turned out to mean was an excruciating prolongation of the war in Vietnam, accompanied by an accelerating animosity toward dissent. The effort to satisfy the silent majority by exorcising the demons of 1968 would eventually lead to the resurgence of an interventionist military policy, the dismantling of what passed for a welfare state, and the prosecution of a “war on drugs” that would imprison more Americans than had ever been behind bars before.

Revisiting this story is important and necessary. But difficulties arise when one tries to identify who those demons actually were…

Rutgers professor Jackson Lear considers several attempts to distill the lessons of the late 60s: “Aquarius Rising.”

Special bonus: film critic J. Hoberman on why, in 1968, an especially rich year for cinema, Night of the Living Dead was his pick for best movie.

* The Beatles, “Hey Jude”

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As we Let The Sunshine In, we might recall that on this date in 1968, our post’s title source, “Hey Jude,” sat at #2 on the pop chart– just ahead of “1,2,3, Redlight” by the 1910 Fruitgum Co. at #3 and The Rascals’ “People Got To Be Free” at #4… and just behind that week’s #1, “Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley.

jeannie-c-riley-harper-valley-pta-1968-a source

 

Written by LW

September 14, 2018 at 1:01 am

“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.

source

 

Written by LW

August 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

“If you had a sign above every studio door saying ‘This Studio is a Musical Instrument’ it would make such a different approach to recording”*…

 

Sun-Studios-web-optimised-740

At 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, you’ll find a reconstruction of the legendary Sun Records studio (home to Howlin’ Wolf, BB King Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, anog others) complete with a recording studio where the likes of U2 and John Mellencamp have recorded. Photo: Paul McGuinness

 

When The Beatles were photographed in August 1969, striding over a zebra crossing in St John’s Wood, London, for the cover shot of their album Abbey Road  they were celebrating a building that had played an essential part in helping them take the music world by storm – and, in the process, turned Abbey Road into one of the most famous recording studios in the world.

The names of iconic recording studios – Sun, Muscle Shoals, Motown, Electric Lady, Trident, Sunset – have become almost as famous as the musicians who have created masterpieces at these venues.

Important recording studios are more than just bricks, mortar and audio equipment to musicians. The Rolling Stones named a song in honour of the Chess Records Studio and Sonic Youth acknowledged New York’s Echo Canyon Studios by naming their 12th studio album, Murray Street, in tribute to a site that had played a key role in their success…

A history of the recording and a celebration of some of music’s storied studios: “Sound Matters: A History Of Legendary Recording Studios.”

* Brian Eno

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As we hum along, we might recall that this date in 1963 was the “official” release date of Introducing… The Beatles, the Fab Four’s first U.S. album.  But confusion at Vee-Jay, the album’s label, delayed the actual release until January 10 of the following year…  one week before Capitol’s Meet the Beatles!.  The latter album, however, entered the U.S. album chart one week before the former. And so, while Meet The Beatles! peaked at No. 1 for eleven consecutive weeks, Introducing…The Beatles stalled at No. 2 where it remained nine consecutive weeks.

Coincidentally, it was on this same day (July 22, 1963) that The Beatles began their first U.K. tour (with Gerry and the Pacemakers) at the Odeon Cinema in Weston-Super-Mare.

introducing_the_beatles source

 

Written by LW

July 22, 2018 at 1:01 am

“In a lot of places, of course, the ’80s had never really come to an end”*…

 

 

frankie-goes-to-hollywood

Frankie Goes to Hollywood: You have woken up under your high school gym teacher.

 

Simple Minds: You have tasted a scented pen.

Mike and the Mechanics: You have thrown a Rolodex at a raccoon or skunk.

Peter Gabriel: You know what Fimo tastes like.

Roxette: You have injured yourself with a Q-Tip.

Madonna: Your bedroom smells like Midori.

Tommy Tutone: You have attempted to use a Polaroid picture as an ID.

Eurythmics: You have lost a mood ring in a hot tub.

The Smiths: You have read aloud to a hamster, ferret, or turtle.

Def Leppard: You have used a package of lunch meat as a pillow.

Psychedelic Furs: You have worn sunglasses through an entire tooth cleaning…

Consult a (very complete) list to find out “what your favorite 80s band says about you.”

* Nick Harkaway, Tigerman

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As we revisit yesteryear, we might recall that it was on this date in 1082 that “Valley Girl” by Frank Zappa and his then 14-year old daughter Moon Unit, entered the Billboard Pop chart at #75. It peaked at #32 in August.  Written by the dad and daughter and performed by Moon Unit, and intended as a parody, the single popularized the Valley Girl stereotype nationwide; following the song’s release, there was a significant increase in “Valspeak” slang usage, whether ironically spoken or not (not the least of which was the film, Valley Girl).  Indeed, Zappa later sardonically observed that, despite his rich body of work, he was likeliest to be remembered as a novelty artist for “Valley Girl” and “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.”

220px-Frank_Zappa_Valley_Girl_single

 

 

Written by LW

July 17, 2018 at 1:01 am

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