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.
For this month’s guest lecture, I was very happy to introduce Stephen Mallinder to the university for a second time. As most of you will already know, Mal was one of the founder members of Cabaret Voltaire – a group who had a massive impact on me as a young music maker and his lectures now are equally valuable to our students.
For this talk, Mal concentrated on the shift from analogue to digital cultures, particularly in regard to the perceptions of musicians, producers and sound-recordists to music production, music distribution and music consumption. He drew from his own background in writing, producing and playing over the past 35 years and also talked about his current work with my old Fila Brazillia partner Steve Cobby in his own current project Hey, Rube!
He discussed the results of his own research interviewing over 30 artists (musicians, DJs, producers and sound recordists, including his old band mate Chris Watson). The findings of which have formed the basis of a chapter for the up Live-Digital publication (Chandos, Summer 2013).
Mal provided a thought-provoking, enjoyable and highly relevant session, particularly for those students investigating similar issues for their final year dissertations. Hopefully, we’ll get him back again next year for the hat-trick!
Dame Evelyn Glennie celebrates the 250th birthday of one of the most unusual of all musical instruments, the Glass Armonica, premiered by Benjamin Franklin in 1762. She tries out the working instrument at the Benjamin Franklin House in London, sees an original example in the Horniman Museum, and discovers the repertoire written for it by Mozart, Hasse and Donizetti. On the way, she encounters madness and mental illness, reveals one of the world’s first female virtuosi, Marianne Davies, and meets the man responsible for the present day revival of this remarkable instrument, Thomas Bloch.
Listen to the BBC Radio 3 programme here
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).
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.
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
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
Cultural commentator Paul Morley explores a history of popular music through some of the iconic recording studios in which classic albums were created.
Without them music as we know it would simply not exist. At its most basic, there’d be no technology to capture the sounds envisaged by the musicians and created and enhanced by the engineers and producers… and there’d be no music for the record companies to market and distribute. But more than that, the studios actually played a crucial part in the structure and fabric of the music recorded there – the sounds enhanced by the studio space itself… the potential and shortcomings of the equipment and technology housed in the cubicles… and the ability and ‘vision’ of the engineers and producers operating it all to find the new sound that makes the recordings sound different and fresh.
In the final programme of the series Paul Morley ventures to West London and one of the last major studio complexes to be built in the heyday of the music industry. But without an exalted musical history to fall back on and decades of experience to help run it, how do you go about creating a world-class facility frequented by the likes of Amy Winehouse, Mick Jagger and Rihanna… and how do you keep it going when all around you are closing their doors?
Producer: Paul Kobrak.
Listen to the programme here
“The era of the great recording studio being central to the production of great albums hit its peak around the time the Stone Roses released their debut album. By the end of the 1990s a combination of increasingly sophisticated home recording and the Internet era assault on traditional record companies with their big recording budgets was threatening the very future of the studio. Studios started to close taking their history and artistic and scientific knowledge with them and even though there was a greater mainstream appetite for pop music, the astonishing complicated machines responsible for the history of pop were becoming as antiquated as steam trains, as irrelevant and obsolescent as stately homes.” Morley, 2012.
Cultural commentator Paul Morley explores a history of popular music through some of the iconic recording studios in which classic albums were created. In future programmes he revisits some of the classical masterpieces recorded in the 80 year old Abbey Road Studios and cutting edge pop in Metropolis, the studio complex built when the music industry was at its most bloated peak. But he begins in the rural heart of Monmouthshire – at a studio that grew out of a farm and gave birth to some of rock music’s finest recordings – everything from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the Stone Roses’ eponymous debut album, from Dr. Feelgood’s “Down By The Jetty” to Oasis’ “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory”, even from the Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues” to Adam Ant’s “Kings Of THe Wild Frontier”. Those trying to explain what part the studio played in creating such musical magic include performers (the veteran Dave Edmunds and the newcomers Iko), technicians (John Leckie and Sean Genockey) and the people who (in some cases, quite literally) built the studio and the business (father and daughter, Kingley and Lisa Ward, and Terry Matthews). As the money flowing through the music industry continues to dry up – Paul also asks what future there may be or the historic recording studios that helped build the industry in the first place?
Listen to the BBC Radio 4 programme here
Producer: Paul Kobrak.
In a nutshell- history of Rap, Hip hop & Break Dancing
This explanation caught my ear. Rapper Ice T was talking about his new documentary Something from nothing, about how when the New York state school system was being cut back, and there were no musical instruments available in schools, kids took the record player and turned it into an instrument, how using the breaks in the tracks became popular with MC’s on the decks, which in turn led to Break Dancing. The MC’s then started working with Rappers and so the story continued.
Listen to this extract of Ice T from BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, where he very succinctly explains the origins of hip-hop.
American musician and performer Ice-T has directed a cinema documentary Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap in which he talks to leading performers including Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre and Eminem about the culture of hip-hop. Ice-T discusses the origins of the music, and its continuing influence.
The Storyline is as follows
SOMETHING FROM NOTHING: THE ART OF RAP is a feature length performance documentary about the runaway juggernaut that is Rap music. At the wheel of this unstoppable beast is the film’s director and interviewer Ice-T. Taking us on a deeply personal journey Ice-T uncovers how this music of the street has grown to dominate the world. Along the way Ice-T meets a whole spectrum of Hip-Hop talent, from founders, to new faces, to the global superstars like Eminem, Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg and Kanye West. He exposes the roots and history of Rap and then, through meeting many of its most famous protagonists, studies the living mechanism of the music to reveal ‘The Art Of Rap’. This extraordinary film features unique performances from the entire cast, without resorting to archive material, to build a fresh and surprising take on the phenomenon that is Rap.
see a BBC video about the documentary here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-17853254
You can Follow Something from Nothing – The Art of Rap on Facebook
and on IMdB here http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2062996/