50 Years Of The Cassette

Neneh Cherry looks at the role of the cassette in music history including the role of the tape in hip hop in the 80s.

In the 80s Britain was a nation in love with the cassette. At its peak we bought 83 million and the cassette became more popular than vinyl. Then came the runaway success of digital music with formats such as the iPod and the MP3 player and the eject button was pressed on sales of the cassette.

6 Music Celebrates: 50 Years of the Cassette with an hour’s show looking back at the format’s role in music from the early days of hip hop, through the legendary NME C86 Indie compilation tape, the 80s slogan “Home Taping is Killing Music”, to compilations, mixtapes and fond memories of the cassette.

The programme features contributions from artists including Grandmaster Flash, DJ Shadow, The Black Keys, Kings of Leon, The Kills, Friends, Django Django, The Shins, Mike Skinner, Beach House, Foals, The Cribs, The Pastels, The Manics, Mike Smith, David Toop, Neneh Cherry and a tiny label called the Tapeworm, who still produce cassette-only releases

Listen to the 6 Music programme here

Guest Lecture – Jez Riley French

I was really pleased to welcome back Jez Riley French for this month’s guest lecture.

Jez is a field-recordist, sound artist and sonic experimenter and I invited him to talk to our L3 project students about his varied and interesting work. Jez specialises in recording hidden sonic worlds such as building structures, underwater environments and the micro perspective of the insect world.

We had great fun discussing and testing Jez’s (often self-made) kit such as hyrophones, geophones, contact and parabolic microphones.

Jez has two exciting projects coming up; a field-recording trip to Iceland with Chris Watson and a Tate Modern commission: audible silence: a headphone piece exploring the hidden sounds of the Tate modern building (february 2013). We’re also trying to arrange a field-recording trip around Lincoln for AP students – watch this space!

Guest Lecture – Susi O’Neill

How do you get your music to an audience? It’s a tricky question and one that students on the Level 2 module Music Production & Enterprise must attempt to answer.

Susi O’Neill is a musician and digital marketing consultant and came to the university today to give a lecture and to help the students devise their promotional strategies for the artists they are working with for this module.

Susi’s very informative lecture covered trends in digital marketing, her own research into independent music distribution and also new business models for music marketing and promotion. She included some very useful advice and a lot of food for thought regarding the state of the recorded music industries.

As a practising musician herself, Susi’s talk tackled exactly the issues and challenges facing the musicians, producers and songwriters in today’s digital environment. I wish she could come back every month!

Guest Lecture – Bill Brewster

The week’s guest lecture was by Bill Brewster AKA DJHistory.

Bill is a passionate music fan and in his entertaining and inspiring talk he described how he has managed to make a living from the thing he loves – music.

Describing himself primarily as a record collector, Bill has worked as a journalist (which took him to New York and Geneva for two years), a DJ, a record company owner, a music producer, an A&R person, a record compiler, a liner notes writer, a music consultant, a website owner and an author (Bill’s book Last Night A DJ Saved My Life is the bible of club and DJ culture).

The audience for Bill’s talk was level 3 Audio Production students who will be looking for ways in which to turn their passion (be it radio, music or film-sound) into a sustainable living in the not too-distant future.

For me, what Bill represents, is how versatility, hard work and a love of your subject can create opportunities and, if you’re ready to respond, how one opportunity can lead to another.

Next year Bill is working on a project with legendary record producer and Chic main-man Nile Rodgers. Not bad for a lad from Grimsby!

Earworms

Earworms are those nagging songs you find yourself humming on the bus.

In this programme, music presenter Shaun Keaveny meets fellow sufferers and scientists to find out why songs get stuck in our head. He asks songwriter Guy Garvey from Elbow how to write a catchy tune and discovers the Holy Grail of musicians everywhere – the ‘earworm formula’.

For the past three years on his 6 Music breakfast show, Shaun has been asking listeners to send in their earworms. When psychologist Dr Lauren Stewart found out, she was fascinated by this strange mental phenomenon. Together they’ve compiled the largest study on earworms to date, with over 10,000 reports from people around the world.

Lauren and her team at Goldsmiths have found that some people are particularly susceptible to earworms. Plus they are starting to discover that certain songs are more ‘earwormy’ than others.

So is there a secret formula behind the world’s catchiest tunes?

Producer: Michelle Martin

Listen to the programme here

Students’ audio series is quality material for BBC Radio 4

University of Lincoln students who created an audio series about one of the world’s greatest scientists have had their work featured on Radio 4’s Material World.

Students and a recent graduate from the University’s Audio Production course were originally asked to produce an audio tour for The Gravity Fields Festival, which aims to celebrate the legacy of Grantham’s most famous son Sir Isaac Newton.

But the quality of the work is such the science programme Material World used extracts from it to introduce a 15-minute segment on the eight-day festival which took place at the end of September.

The audio, which was also serialised on BBC Radio Lincolnshire, features amateur actors and local schoolchildren and was all recorded on location – including Newton’s birth in the very same room at Woolsthorpe Manor.

Bryan Peter Rudd, the University’s Audio Production programme leader, put the team together following a request from the festival organisers and the BBC.

Bryan said: “This was a fantastic partnership for the University to be involved with. The quality of work produced by the students is absolutely tremendous and they achieved this while working under enormous pressure to very tight deadlines. I am extremely proud of them as they have shown the amazing quality of work our students are capable of.”

Luke Pickering, who recently graduated from the University with a first-class honours degree in audio production, led the student team which consisted of Jake Walker, James Drake and Stephen Bernard.

Luke, 22, who also spent the summer recording live bands, said: “Recording on location was something I hadn’t had much experience in so that aspect was really interesting. Between the four of us it worked smoothly and I’m really pleased with the finished product.”

Jake, 20, added: “It was a fantastic experience. When I told my mum the audio had been played on Radio 4 she was delighted, if I ever got to work on The Archers she’d probably cry. I was a bit scared as we only had a week to put it together but I learned so much which I can apply to future projects.”

Charlie Partridge, Managing Editor of BBC Radio Lincolnshire, involved the University after he was initially approached to produce an audio tour for the festival.

He said: “It soon became clear that it would also be suitable for radio drama. The University has amazing facilities and a great bunch of talented people, which is why I immediately contacted the media department. The students worked fantastically well from our point of view and it was great they had the opportunity to have their work broadcast, not only on local radio but also on Radio 4. I applied a real quality test to the finished product, so it was a real challenge for them. That kind of site specific drama is really difficult to get right but they did. It is in every way a professional recording and is testament to the very talented people both studying and working at the University of Lincoln.”

To listen to the episode of Material World which features excerpts from the radio drama go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01mwzwj from 16 minutes in.

Story by Marie Daniels – PR Officer

Bush House Soundscapes


The closure of Bush House, home to the BBC World Service since December 1940, has provoked two wonderful soundscape projects.

Firstly, World Service studio manager Robin The Fog used recordings made in Bush House at night to create The Ghosts of Bush. “Here, atmospheric noises are slowed down and looped, with the help of some of the World Service’s ancient reel-to-reels, to form a piece of beautiful, warm spatial exploration. Chords swell and harmonic patterns emerge out of the building’s crepuscular creaking or Robin’s whistling, using the labyrinthine Portland stone corridors of the building, at one time the most expensive in the world, as a giant reverb tank.” (The Quietus, 2012).

Secondly, Creative Director of the re-launched Radiophonic Workshop Matthew Herbert created a soundscape for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Listen to Matthew discussing his Sonic Tribute To Bush House here
Listen/download The Ghosts of Bush here

Ludwig Koch and the Music of Nature

Ludwig Koch was once as famous as David Attenborough, as pioneering as ‘Blue Planet’ and as important as the BBC Natural History Unit. They all owe their existence to this German refugee who first recorded the music of nature. Through his archive and new field recordings the poet Sean Street tells the story of Ludwig Koch.

When Sean Street was recording in a store-room at the Science Museum for a Radio 4 archive programme he came across a grey crate, stencilled, as if it belonged to a band on tour, with KOCH on it. This was the disc-cutting machine which Ludwig Koch used for a decade to make the recordings of birds, mammals and insects that led to a new field of study, of broadcasting and the creation of the BBC’s Natural History Unit.

Sean and his producer then began investigating and discovered that Koch made the first ever wildlife recording, of a bird, when he was eight, in 1889 – and that it still exists in the BBC’s archives.

Koch was an effusive man and this led to several confrontations with Nazi officials, whom he despised. There is an extraordinary recording of him telling the story of a Berliner whose bullfinch sang ‘The Internationale’. He was carted off to prison and the bird ‘executed’. “Under dictatorship,” Koch observed, “even songbirds suffer”. He came to England, worked with Julian Huxley on theories of animal language, and recorded birds from the Scillies to Shetland.

In 1940 he joined the BBC and soon became a household name, beloved of comedians (there’s a great sketch by Peter Sellers parodying him at work) because of his resolute pronunciation of English as if it were German.

As well as being wonderful radio in itself his work was of great significance. It inspired producer Desmond Hawkins to start ‘The Naturalist’, (using Koch’s enchanting recording of a curlew as its signature tune). Sean Street uses his recordings and contributions of those who worked with him in what becomes a natural history programme in itself, with Koch the subject and Sean exploring his habits and habitat.

There is also an attempt to record curlews as he did so successfully, to shed light on the achievements of this courageous, influential and loveable genius. Today sound-recordists use tiny digital machines and sophisticated microphones. But there are other problems – traffic, planes, people – and fewer, shyer curlews.

Listen to the programme here
Producer: Julian May.

Out of Silence

Curiously, the word silent is an anagram of the word listen! In this edition of Something Understood the poet Seán Street reflects upon what can be heard in silence and the difference in its nature from stillness – the difference, perhaps, between doing and being.

Using poetry, prose and music, as well as some extracts of innovative international radio, Seán explores the positive and negative aspects of the subject, the ‘magic silence of possibility’, the peace and calm it brings in a noisy world, the silence of loneliness, alienation – and when keeping silent is sometimes tantamount to complicity. ‘The words “Silent” and “Listen” are anagrams of one another,’ says Seán. ‘That is perhaps very significant. I want to explore as far as I can the poetry that lies in silence, the point where sound and silence come together, as in the tolling of a bell, the place matter and spirit merge.’

With reference to the words of Rupert Brooke, John Berger and Rachel Muers and music by John Cage, Bob Chilcott, Jonathan Harvey, Erberhard Weber, Pink Floyd and Miles Davis.

Listen to the programme here
Produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree Production for BBC Radio 4

Music and Technology


Music has always evolved with technology but have the advances always been beneficial?

With news of the forthcoming release of an album entirely composed by a computer what will be left of the creative process for musicians?

Many other musicians have used the latest technology to ‘push the outside of the envelope’ of music, creating sounds and ways of listening previously unknown to man.

In a special edition of Click from the BBC Radio Theatre, presenter Gareth Mitchel and technology specialist Bill Thompson, focus on music and technology.

They are joined by a panel of experts, including the soundscape artist, Martyn Ware – founder member of The Human League and Heaven 17; the technophile composer Alexis Kirke, who has been called “the Philip K Dick of contemporary music”; and the experimenting pianist Sarah Nicolls, who plays on her own ‘Inside-Out Piano’ and triggers music via sensors on her muscles.

Listen to the programme here