Just in time for All Hallow’s Eve, our resident Scare Queen (and senior classical music analyst) Michelle Alexander looks at some of the scariest music ever written, ranging from the ominous organ music of Bach and Beethoven’s stormy symphonic pieces through Liszt’s violent piano hammering and then into the creeping atonality of 20th Century composers like George Crumb and Gyorgy Ligeti. She thrusts her hands into the muck of musical fright and dredges up the dissonance and challenged expectations that make for aural horror. (9 mins.)
For the full story, check out the musical samples and a mixtape made especially for trick-or-treaters.
The Best Music EVER
In the comments to my previous post, a commenter wrote (in a long and very well-reasoned comment) that the craft of popular music from Tin Pan Alley and the American songbook “remains unquestionably the model to which all future song writing must be compared.”
Believe it or not, this made me think about punk rock. Here’s how.
Let’s Not Talk About Forever
The idea that any kind of song writing will ever be “unquestionably the model to which all future song writing must be compared” is hyperbolic. Forever is a long time, and to say that people in 200 years, or 2,000 years, or 12,000 years will look ONLY to Tin Pan Alley for the ultimate in song writing standards is at best impossible to confirm.
At worst, it projects our beliefs onto the people of the future, presuming that they will not only understand everything better than we do, but that they will select what we value and confirm its ultimate superiority. In other words, it’s a fantasy.
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Congratulations to the winners of the 3rd Annual Pandora Poster Contest! Once again we were blown away by the variety and quality of your submissions.
The Grand Prize winner will receive $500, the Runner-up will receive $250, and the Editor’s Choice winner will receive $500.
Thanks so much to everyone who participated in the contest, and an extra congratulations to the winners.
Donate now to one of our Global Giving projects to get a poster. With a minimum $10 donation, you can select which poster to receive. Donate at least $20 and receive all three.
Here’s part two of our Improv show, in which we explore directed improvisation and how musicians support each other when they’re out on the sea of spontaneity: Guitarist Lebo from ALO (a.k.a. Animal Liberation Orchestra), pianist Trevor Garrod from Tea Leaf Green (pictured here), and guitarist Jeremy Korpas from Big Light.
Recorded and edited by Tyler Brown at Bellboy Recording in Richmond CA. “The Musicology Show” is a free podcast subscription in iTunes and other RSS readers. (11 mins.)
The first question we’re often asked about Pandora, explained by the founder.<!– –>
Electronic/dance music is largely based on musical conventions. Whether it is the use of the amen break, as a sample and dominant rhythmic pattern in drum & bass, the repetitive pounding of a kick drum sound in house & techno, or the low, rumbling, electro-bass of breakbeat – there are certain things a listener can expect from a particular sub-genre within EDM (electronic dance music). These conventions, or standard musical elements are fairly easy to extract and then combine (or mash-up) with a dominant element from another sub-genre, creating a new musical form.
In simple terms this is the foundation of the mash-up, a technique that has been at work in popular music ever since DJs starting blending & manipulating records in the 1970’s. It has certainly become a popular sub genre of it’s own.
While it is endlessly entertaining to explore ways to combine rock, rap, 80’s synth pop, swing, jazz, r&b, dancehall, bhangra…I would like to dig a little deeper into how the mash-up of musical conventions within electronic/dance is creating some compelling new sub-genres. Let’s start with dubstep.
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Q: Did Music Discover Emotion? And What Does that Have to Do with Song Lyrics?
A: “God Only Knows”
The Problem with Song Lyrics
As a songwriter, I think of song lyrics as a specialization within creative writing. Unlike other kinds of creative writing, song lyrics can be excellent even when the writing (taken on its own) isn’t particularly good. It’s a feel you have to have, it’s a sort of creative half-writing. It’s leaving things out. It’s a kind of writing which in some ways is more like conversation than literature.
This is pretty apparent when you take a lyric out of the context of its song. On the page or read out loud, a song lyric will rarely work. The music, too, generally depends on the presence of the lyric to have its full effect.
Separated from each other, the elements of a song usually fall shy of what we consider true literature or music.
Now obviously, I believe that songs are the equal of any other art form. I write them, after all. But exactly how such excellence is fashioned from such humble materials – the alchemical quality of songs – is hard to see. It is perhaps the central mystery and attraction of songwriting, and it is of perennial fascination to me.
It’s not essential to understand these things in order to do them well, and it’s surely not possible to ever fully understand them, but it can’t hurt to try; and yesterday I came across a quote that may just offer a missing piece of the puzzle. It’s from What is Music: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Music,” by Philip Alperson, and it says:
“”emotion” can, in effect, be defined as what music articulates, much as “reality” can be best defined as that which the concepts and grammars of languages can capture.”
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Wow! We received over 300 poster submissions from some of our incredibly talented listeners.
Thank you for your entries, and thank you for all your votes. We have compiled the votes and have posted the 25 semi-finalists at pandora.votigo.com. So please take a few minutes now to vote for your favorites.
We will be announcing three winners again this year: Grand Prize, Runner Up, and Editor’s Choice. The Grand Prize winner will receive $500, the Runner Up will receive $250, and the Editor’s Choice winner will receive $500. All three will also include some great publicity on our blog.
The three winners will be printed in limited editions and given as gifts to donors to our GlobalGiving philanthropy projects.
In Music, the Exception Becomes the Rule
In his book “The Classical Style,” Charles Rosen makes a cool point. He sets it up by saying:
“The history of an artistic ‘language’… cannot be understood in the same way as the history of a language used for everyday conversation. In the history of English, for example, one man’s speech is as good as another’s. It is the picture of the whole that counts, and not the interest, grace, or profundity of the individual example.”
In other words, together we all create what is known as the English language.
But music, he says:
“…stands the history of a language on its head: it is now the mass of speakers that are judged by their relation to the single one, and the individual statement that provides the norm and takes precedence over general usage.”
In other words, individual artists define what is known as the music of a particular time.
He makes his point in reference to Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven; but the same thing could easily be said about The Beatles and their definitive role in popular music of the 20th Century.
The Beatles: Masters
The Beatles’ recordings arguably demonstrate the limit of what is possible in their particular form of both songwriting and record-making, and so I was pretty skeptical when I heard that remastered versions of all of their records were coming out.
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Please click here to listen while you read
“All Sounds are Created Equal”
That’s a phrase I used to like to throw around. The idea is that all sounds are ultimately ripples in the atmosphere, changes in air pressure that our ears can decode; and as such the waves that radiate through the air carrying a Beethoven symphony are no different from the ones that radiate out from a car accident.
That’s true, I think; but it’s not the whole truth, because each wave is perfectly unique as well. No two can be identical. And it is precisely because of this that it’s been possible for us to connect different meanings to these waves. Words, car horns, music, and so on would be indistinguishable if all sounds were the same.
These two truths seem to coexist as a kind of double helix, with one strand standing for the unity of all sounds and the other standing for the uniqueness of each. Sound is comprised of both.
Most of us only call certain sounds music. If a hammer falls off of a table, say, most people would not define the resulting clatter as music. But, happily, there are some of us who would hear music in that falling hammer, and it is the music made by these people that is the subject of this post. The station I’ve been working on this week, named “Ovals,” is the soundtrack. Listen.
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