The Red Bull Music Academy is a two-week long festival of New Music that happens every Fall. There are a lot of great music festivals around the world, but this one is interesting to me because it represents how arts patronage can work in the digital age.
Here’s something that’s caught my ear recently: Skweee (that’s S-K-W-E-E-E), which started in Finland and Sweden a little over 10 years ago. The goal of skweee seems to be the use of the most synthetic sounds possible to make music that is still funky and soulful. It is a downtempo style - much slower than Electro House or Drum and Bass. The digital drum parts are lifted from funk and R & B, the melodies, chords and basslines tend to sound like they came from the cheapest synthesizers available.
The song you are hearing is made entirely from music produced on my phone. Doing it was fast, fun and easy; it didn’t take much know-how, either. Most of you could do it, too; I think all of you should try.
As always, I’ve been fretting over the state of live music, and I think I’ve found a way that maybe the internet can help. Concerts are not new to the internet, of course. NPR’s All Songs Considered, for instance, has its excellent Tiny Desk Concert series. But these are just recordings.
Some kinds of music work better while driving than others, so it can be said that the automobile has had an influence on what kind of music people listen to.
A car is not the ideal listening environment. It’s noisy, so any music that is too soft will get lost.
I hate to say it, but classical music is the most difficult music to enjoy while driving. Any soft string chord or timpani roll is going to be lost in the rumble; and you can’t count on an important part to be repeated, so a passing ambulance could make you miss the climax of the entire piece.
When Napster came out, it was predicted that the music industry would suffer. This turned out to be true: file sharing has decimated the incomes of record companies and artists.
New, legal streaming services like Grooveshark, Last.FM, Rdio and Pandora have been created to compete with music pirating. The convenience of on-demand music is attracting more listeners than FM radio; it remains to be seen, though, whether streaming actually benefits the artists or if it has become a way for record companies to exploit them.
Most musicians use the pitch A above middle C to tune their instruments. That’s the note the first oboist plays at the beginning of an orchestra concert. This note is generally calibrated at 440 vibrations per second.
Centuries ago there was little standardization; concert pitch varied from town to town, and even within the same town. Most instruments were tuned much lower than the current norm. The closest thing we have to a measurable standard from Bach’s day are old tuning forks, which set the A at about 423, about a half-step lower than the A we use today.
Local guitar maker Stuart Mossman was a big reason why Kansas has such a strong musical heritage. Not only did he create beautiful musical instruments, but he helped to create a culture around them. His guitars were played by John Denver, Eric Clapton, Emmylou Harris, and Cat Stevens, among others.
Working from his garage in Winfield, Kansas in the late 1960’s, he came up with a design based partly on advice from singer-songwriter Doc Watson. His S.L Mossman Guitar company was established in 1970 and was soon producing up to 10 guitars a day.
Did you ever notice that “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” has the same tune as the “Alphabet Song?” It’s also the same as Baa, Baa Black Sheep, and, slowed down, it becomes "What a Wonderful World."
A song with new lyrics given to an existing song is called a “Contrafactum.” This is a great way to express a new perspective, even if it’s just satire, like singing “Batman Smells” to the tune of “Jingle Bells.”