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The Sound of Music
A new book by Stephen Gislason has emerged from his Music Notes. The topics cover a wide range of interests from the history of instruments, music theory, composing to the most current technologies involved in music composition and sound recording. A special chapter on the Musical Brain explains current knowledge in the brain processing of sound as it applies to language and music decoding. A chapter on the Music Business reviews the dramatic changes in music marketed and discusses some of the dilemmas and controversies facing musicians.
This book emerged from notes I have kept for several decades. I have spent much time studying music theory, electronics applied to sound reproduction and to performance skills. I decided to assemble my music notes so that any person interested in music could benefit from simple, clear explanations. Music descriptions often are too complicated and the use of terms can be inconsistent and confusing. As with other subjects I have tackled, I assumed that with a little extra effort more precise descriptions would be welcomed by readers seeking a practical understanding of music.
The book begins with a consideration of what sound is and how animals use sounds to communicate. Music is not a human invention, but we do elaborate sound communication more than other animals in our production of both speech and musical performances. The discussion continues with noise, an important topic that is poorly understood. A well informed musician will refrain from making noise and understand Ambrose Bierce when he stated: Of all noise, music is the less offensive."
I include acoustic and electronic instruments in my discussions of music creation. In my world, electronics dominate every aspect of work and play and most music I create and listen to was created, stored and distributed electronically. The art and science of recording is an important study for all 21st century musicians. Increased sophistication about the nature of sound, the art of combining musical sounds, and the effect on the listener's brain are all required for music to advance beyond noise toward a more effective means of human communication. Stephen Gislason 2011
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Table to Contents
Singing, dancing and playing music of all kinds are clearly the best expressions of humans. This is not to suggest that all sounds presented as music are really music, since noise appears to be replacing real music in many popular formats. Real music is intelligent and pleasing. Real music is rhythmic, not always with drums. Musical drumming should be interesting, sometimes exciting, but never noisy or oppressive. Composers in the Europe of old were immersed in music from their early childhood. They followed forms that were fashionable and influenced each other. JS Bach, the great master was influenced by Handel and Vivaldi. Mozart expressed musical ideas from Bach, Handel, Haydn and many other composers at work in Europe. Beethoven studied with Haydn and was inspired by Mozart. Händel was born in 1685, the same year as JS Bach and Domenico Scarlatti. Bach eventually complimented Handel and his music saying that Handel was "the only person I would wish to be, were I not Bach." Mozart admired Bach's genius. Beethoven said that JS Bach was "the master of us all".
Each musical "genius" added his own innovations so that the ideas that drove musical composition progressed, despite the resistance of patrons and audiences. There has always been a battle between audiences who want more of the same and composers who were innovative. Many creative composers suffered repeated rejection and penury. Some of the best known 20th century composers of “classical” music were Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Rachmaninov and Otto Klemperer; all four lived Los Angeles after fleeing from the second world war in Europe. Schoenberg and Stravinsky wrote music for films. Homegrown composers often combined orchestral music with popular music. Stylistic distinctions were overcome by creative innovators such as Copeland, Ellington, Gershwin, Bernstein and a host of jazz musicians who emerged as virtuoso performers and creative composers. Musical ideas converged in the US to produce rapidly evolving and eclectic styles. As recorded popular music emerged, song writers and arrangers became the new composers who dominated radio play.
A topic often discussed among musicians who have not yet made the big time is what are the ingredients of hit songs? The are many ideas. One idea, for sure, is that a lot of people must like the tune. Liking a tune requires hearing the tune often, so that it becomes as familiar as brushing your teeth. Since hit singles became the goal of recording companies in the 1950's, frequent radio play was the route to popularity. The competition for radio play led to big business control of the airways, shady deals and some criminal involvement.
In Aug. 4, 1958, Billboard magazine began to list the most popular 100 tunes based on sales and plays on jukeboxes and the radio. The first No. 1 it was Ricky Nelson’s "Poor Little Fool." Geoff Mayfield recalled: “If you found only one easy listening song in a college student's music library during the early '60s, it would have been Percy Faith's rendition of "Theme from 'A Summer Place.'" With a melody carried by Faith's orchestra string section, the instrumental entered the Hot 100 at No. 96 in the Jan. 16, 1960, issue and rose to No. 1."
Summer Place" enjoyed the hit longest popularity at the time, a record broken in 1968 when the Beatles' "Hey Jude" topped the chart for nine weeks, becoming the band's longest-running chart topper. No other instrumental to date has led the Hot 100 as long as Summer Place. Some of the hit makers became rich and famous but less lucky song writers and musicians remained relatively poor. Recording companies grew richer, bigger and more autocratic. Song structures and styles became standardized and most hit tunes followed a predictable form. Even today, a song writer should stay with the standard form and introduce only small innovations.
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