Musical Space

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You’ve all heard about The Mozart Effect, the theory that listening to classical music will “make you smarter.” Whether or not research bears this out, the Mozart Effect has become a rallying cry for music educators and is even a trademarked way to sell CDs to parents hoping their kids would eventually get high-paying jobs.

tyler.stefanich / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

Recorded music now makes so little money that some artists have gone to a completely different business model.

Musicians are now releasing their work for free in the hopes that their music will reach the ears of someone willing to put it in a movie, or that it will help promote a live tour or merchandise sales. This is called a “Creative Commons License,” and it grants everyone the right to freely distribute the work, provided they don’t sell, alter or claim it as their own.

londonist.com / Google Images / Creative Commons

There is a raw honesty about the music of PJ Harvey, and that is probably the reason she’s the only person to twice win England’s Mercury Prize for best album of the year.

Now, she has figured out a way to make her next album a much more intimate and meaningful experience for the listener: she is treating the recording as an art exhibit.

Stairway To Litigation

Jan 20, 2015
Heinrich Klaffs / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

Led Zeppelin was one of a wave of British bands enamored with American delta blues, and they covered a large number of blues artists like Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon.

“Borrowing” songs from someone else is part of the blues tradition, but Led Zeppelin might have taken things too far. They have already been sued in the past for plagiarising Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson. Now, they find themselves in court again, this time over the authorship of the band’s colossus, "Stairway to Heaven," a song that has earned more than half a billion dollars.

Released in 1968 Head, starring The Monkees, is one of the strangest rock ‘n’ roll films ever made. Tired of their image as cute and cuddly TV stars the manufactured group almost entirely destroyed its reputation in the course of 86 minutes with the plotless picture.

Head takes on celebrity, the war in Vietnam, psychedelic culture, and, of course, the band’s image. The film flopped although the director Bob Rafelson and co-producers Jack Nicholson and Bert Schneider would have more success with films such as Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces.

Soundtracks to films such as Shaft and Cleopatra Jones changed the pop music landscape by providing a new perspective on soul sensibility with funky drum, slap bass, clavinet and the sound of wah wah pedals.

You could hear strings and horns collide with orchestral movie music and a James Brown style groove.

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.

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.

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.

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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