Musical Space

Musical Space is a look at all things music, by KMUW Music Commentator Mark Foley. Mark is Assistant Professor of Double Bass and Electric Bass, and Principal Double Bass in the Wichita Symphony Orchestra.

He has been a featured soloist with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. He also has performed with the Rochester Philharmonic, the Heidelberg Castle Opera Festival, the Binghamton Symphony, the Minnesota Opera and also performs extensively as a jazz artist. 

The Musical Space commentary airs on KMUW on alternate Tuesdays. You can subscribe to the Musical Space podcast on iTunes or Google Play

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:

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.

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.

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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