Musical Space

Commentary
5:00 am
Tue December 9, 2014

Musical Space: Perfect Pitch May Be Closer Than You Think

Perfect Pitch is the ability to recall any note at will without relying on a reference note. People with perfect pitch can tell you what key a song is in just by hearing it, and can sing a given note, say, a C#, out of the blue. This is associated with freakishly talented musicians like Mozart.

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Commentary
5:00 am
Tue November 25, 2014

Musical Space: You Really Got Me

The Kinks reached Number One on the British charts 50 years ago with their new single “You Really Got Me.” The band solidified their sound with this song, and also pushed rock music a quantum leap forward, and for that we owe the Kinks a great debt.

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Musical Space
1:47 pm
Tue November 11, 2014

Musical Space: The Bass Drop

Traditional songs with lyrics tend to be divided into verses and choruses, with a bridge sometimes thrown in; modern electronic dance music, though, doesn’t rely on words for its structure, so EDM has something simpler instead, called the Bass Drop. This is the climax of the song, the place following a “build” where there is a sudden addition of bass. It is self-evident, at least to me, that bass notes make music sound good; so it makes sense that a place that features the bass should be the most important part of the piece.

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Commentary
5:00 am
Tue October 28, 2014

Musical Space: Let Go, Look Beyond, Accept

I’m trying to atone for my sins as a former music snob, and today I’m doing it by listening to old hip-hop. I used to be quick to criticize pop styles that I didn’t think were “heavy” enough. But every time I said I didn’t like a particular genre, a counterexample would present itself. Fela Kuti destroyed my dislike of world music; Patsy Cline shattered my hatred of Country and Western.

So I’m trying to learn to like other kinds of music, and to do it I’ll have to do three things:

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Commentary
5:00 am
Tue October 14, 2014

Musical Space: Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies

Credit Sean Sandefur

There are so many reasons to talk about Brian Eno. A visionary British art-rocker from the band Roxy Music, the epicenter of the creation of whole genres - No Wave, Ambient and Generative Music, he’s the producer who recorded Devo and Talking Heads, and now does the same for mega-bands like Coldplay and U2. Visual artist, writer, theorist, and political activist, Brian Eno is so constantly creative that even David Bowie has called on him for artistic direction.

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Commentary
5:00 am
Tue September 30, 2014

Ivory Laws Make Being A Musician More Difficult

Ivory has historically been a part of musical instrument making: for piano keys, the tips of violin bows, guitar tuning pegs, and even the rings crowning the tops of bassoons. This sad fact is having repercussions that musicians are feeling now.

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Commentary
5:00 am
Tue September 16, 2014

Musical Space: Tablature

Our system of music notation is notoriously hard to learn - an arcane and ancient code invented by monks to help remember liturgical chants. It has been amended over the years to show things like rhythms, black notes, key changes, and dynamics; this has made it even more unintuitive and complicated.

For the frustrated garage guitarist, however, there is a simple alternative: tablature, or “tab.” Tab is based on the guitar’s fretboard; numbers tell the player on which strings and which frets to put their fingers. It’s no more sophisticated than playing Rock Band on the Wii.

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Commentary
11:19 am
Tue September 2, 2014

Musical Space: White Noise

White noise is the sound of complete randomness; a statistically equal combination of all audible frequencies at the same time. It is the ultimate cacophony and it is all around us; the hiss from a steam radiator and the static between radio stations.

By definition white noise has no discernible pitch, nothing to make it tuneful or inherently interesting. It creeps into our lives as an artifact of our mechanical world and mostly just gets in the way of what we are actually trying to hear. Noise is why it is hard to hear really soft sounds, and why a plane ride so fatiguing.

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Commentary
5:00 am
Tue August 19, 2014

Musical Space: Piano Falling

Credit Jordan Kirtley

Composer Catherine Yass was recently prevented by a neighborhood association from performing her piece “Piano Falling,” which involves a piano being pushed off the top of an unoccupied 27-story housing project building. The association concluded that the piece amounted to “antisocial behavior.”

I’m sorry that “Piano Falling” won’t be realized; it could have been a powerful statement about the unrealized promise of a decaying modernist structure. But mostly I just want to know what it sounds like when a grand piano hits the ground from a fall of over 270 feet.

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Commentary
9:25 am
Tue August 5, 2014

Musical Space: Iron Maiden’s Literary Bent

There’s a long tradition of literature inspiring rock lyrics. Bruce Springsteen borrowed elements of John Steinbeck’s classic The Grapes of Wrath for the song “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” Cream’s “Tales of Brave Ulysses” is filled with images culled from Homer’s Odyssey. And Devo’s signature song “Whip It” was inspired by Thomas Pynchon’s notoriously dense novel Gravity’s Rainbow.

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