The Science Of Music

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 20.14.42

In this BBC Radio 4 series, Professor Robert Winston looks at music with a scientist’s eye in a series which seeks to fully understand our relationship with the power of sound.

In Episode 1 of the series, Professor Winston explores the origins of music. Are we really the descendants of singing cavemen?

In Episode 2, Professor Winston explores the logic, engineering and physics underlying the musical sounds we hear. Why do some notes sound good together? And are we really simply seeking patterns when we listen to music?

In Episode 3, Robert Winston explores music and the mind. What’s happening in our heads when we listen to music?

In Episode 4, Robert Winston explores the science of music performance. What’s happening when we perform music? And does it change our brains?

Essential listening – Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening (Radio 4)

Screen Shot 2013-04-10 at 07.07.08
A new series of 30 parts started today on Radio 4 – ‘Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening’, written and presented by David Hendy. This looks to be essential listening for Audio Production students. I especially recommend it to level 1 students – my module at level 2, Auditory Culture, focuses on various aspects of the topic of noise, and this series will be very useful background material to prime you for the module. A book, based on the series, is also now available.

http://makingnoiseblog.wordpress.com

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

Tales From The Bridge – Martyn Ware


At level 1, one of the first assessment tasks I ask students to undertake is the creation of a soundscape. However, for some, the very notion of the soundscape is unfamiliar. Soundscapes can take many different forms – some can be very challenging for the listener/audience.

Whilst listening to Radio 4 this morning, I heard a short interview with Martyn Ware (The Human League, Heaven 17) in which he explains the concept behind his Tales From The Bridge soundscape currently installed at London’s Millennium Bridge. This is an excellent example of an accessible approach to the creation of a soundscape and hopefully one which will inspire some of our students’ creativity.

Listen to the clip here

John Cage’s 4’33” and other ‘daft’ compositions

It’s the 60th anniversary of the creation of John Cage’s Four Minutes, Thirty Three Seconds. In BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Evan Davis asks “Is it a profound statement about the concept of music or the silliest composition ever?”

Nicola Stanbridge considers some groundbreaking pieces including Stockhausen’s Helicopter String Quartet and La Monte Young’s piece for Terry Riley which involves pushing a piano into a wall until you exhaust yourself.

Listen to the clip here

A Sound British Adventure

Comedian Stewart Lee is passionate about electronic music and he take us on a remarkable musical journey. We discover how, after the Second World War, a small group of electronic pioneers began tinkering with their army surplus kit to create new sounds and music.

Tristram Cary started the first electronic music studio in Britain but, while France, Germany, Italy and the USA had lavishly funded research centres, British electronic music remained the preserve of boffins on a budget.

As the programme reveals, this make do and mend approach prevailed long after austerity Britain had given way to the swinging 60s, with Peter Zinovieff developing EMS synthesizers from a shed at the bottom of his garden in Putney. (Paul McCartney put on his wellies and took a look). Zinovieff is interviewed about his experiments in sound.

Unsurprisingly, the electronic community in Britain was a small, intimate group and joining Cary and Zinovieff was Daphne Oram, who devoted decades to developing a ‘drawn sound’ electronic composition system that never really quite worked.

Brian Hodgson tells us about 1960s experimental and electronic festivals, including The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave (1967) at which The Beatles’ electronic piece Carnival Of Light had its only public airing. We shall also hear how the radiophonic workshop broke new musical ground with Dr. Who.

Experts in the history of electronic music, including author and musician Mark Ayers and Goldsmith College lecturer in computer studies Dr. Michael Griegson give the boffins’ view and Portishead’s Adrian Utley explains why the early forays in electronics are still relevant today.

Produced by John Sugar
A Sugar Production for BBC Radio 4.

Listen to the programme here