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Science of Rock Blog Archive

Dpod
20 Feb, 2015

Drums—technically known as membranophones—may be mankind’s oldest instrument, dating back to when humans first learned to keep rhythm.

Drums consist of a membrane (also known as a skin) stretched over an open-ended cylinder (also known as a shell) and struck with the band or a stick. Some drums have a skin stretched over the bottom of the shell as well.

Dpod
19 Feb, 2015

When Mozart and Beethoven were composing, the only way they could document what they heard in their heads was by using standard musical notation. 

Classical composers before the era of recorded music did their very best to describe their music by writing it down on paper.  It was then up to the individual conductors and musicians to interpret that score.

When people went to see a performance of, say, Beethoven’s Fifth, they had an idea of what they were going to hear but would also be interested to in the spin a given orchestra might put on things.  Because it was never permanently documented in audio form—as far as anyone tell, Beethoven himself never made a CD—we have no idea how Beethoven actually intended his symphony to sound. Back then, music was of the moment, something that happened and then was gone

Dpod
05 Feb, 2015

Featuring music by the Arkells, this video takes you behind the scenes to explain why there can be no rock n’ roll without science. 

Dpod
05 Feb, 2015

The first compact disc to be manufactured in America (as opposed to Germany or Japan) was Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA in 1984.

In 1984, Sony became the first company to offer an in-dash CD player for cars.

In 1985, Mercedes-Benz was the first automobile manufacturer to offer an in-dash CD player in its vehicles

Dpod
01 Feb, 2015
Category: Blog Category

The first album transferred to CD for demonstration purposes was Living Eyes from the Bee Gees in 1981.

Among the first CDs to go on sale to the general public in Japan when the format was first introduced on October 1, 1982, was 52ndStreet by Billy Joel.

Dpod
30 Jan, 2015

 Unlike a vinyl record which revolves at a constant speed and plays from the outside in, a CD’s spin rate varies from 200 to 500 RPM and plays from the inside out.

At first, there was great reluctance by the recording industry and by record retailers to the compact disc.  Still suffering from both a brutal recession and the post-disco industry crash, the last thing they wanted to do was spend money on an unproven format.  They hated the idea of having to invest in factories, transportation, warehousing, marketing and shelving.

Dpod
29 Jan, 2015

Some things you may not have known about the ubiquitous CD:

The first CDs rolled off the manufacturing line of a factory in Hanover, West Germany, on August 17, 1982.  The first discs off the line seem to have been a recording of Alpensymphonie, Op. 64: Sonnenaugang by the Berliner Philharmonic conducted by Herbert Von Karajan and The Visitor by ABBA.

Dpod
28 Jan, 2015

Although the technology had been around since the 1930s (the first FM radio for the car was introduced in 1952 by Blaupunkt and stereo broadcasting began in the US in 1961), the frequency spectrum languished in the shadow of immensely popular AM stations.

Originally used for classical and jazz music because of its superior sound, FM listenership remained low.  Many broadcasters just repeated their AM signals on their FM station.  That ended in 1967 when the Federal Communications Commission imposed a non-duplication rule, meaning that FM simulcasts of AM broadcasts were no longer allowed. 

Dpod
27 Jan, 2015

The second consumer product to be made with transistors (right after the hearing aid) was the transistor radio, beginning with the Regency TR-1.  

It was produced in part by Texas Instruments which started production in October 1954.  Although it was expensive—$49.95, well over $400 in today’s dollars—and went through batteries very quickly, it sold 150,000 units.  Other companies (including a tiny Japanese outfit called Sony) began to manufacture their own radios.  Prices dropped dramatically.

Dpod
26 Jan, 2015

What we would recognize as the first true electric guitar was invented in 1931 for musicians who needed help being heard amongst the other instrumentation in jazz bands and blues combos.

Credit goes to George Beauchamp and Adolph Rickenbacker who created something they called The Frying Pan because, well, it looked like a frying pan with a long handle. They received a patent in 1937.  There’s still a brand of guitar that carries Rickenbacker’s name

Dpod
25 Jan, 2015

It’s self-evident to most people that there are songs that sound “happy” and others that sound “sad.”  

This can be a function of key, which involves the importance and relationships between the notes in any given piece of music.  Songs in major keys tend to sound “happy” while those in minor keys are perceived as “sad” or “tense.  Here are some examples:

 
Dpod
25 Jan, 2015

By the middle 1970s, a new art form called the “music video” began to gain attention.  Although short promotional films for songs or albums had been produced for decades (they were once known as “soundies” and Scopitone films that were sometimes played in special video jukeboxes), they experienced a renaissance following Beatles projects such as Magical Mystery Tour.

Dpod
24 Jan, 2015

Before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, it was impossible to capture sound for later playback.  You’d think that Edison might consider this when he made the first-ever recording for his new machine.

Nope.  Edison was a practical person and just needed to prove that his new invention would work.

Dpod
23 Jan, 2015

 

First band to webcast a concert online: Severe Tire Damage from the patio of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center in California, June 23, 1993.

First major act to premiere a song online: Aerosmith with “Head First” via CompuServe, June 27, 1994. It takes more than a week for it to reach 10,000 downloads.

Dpod
22 Jan, 2015

Many people are familiar with the standard speeds for playing records:  33 ⅓, 45 and 78 RPM.  But what about those old turntables that came with four speeds?

That fourth speed was 16 ⅔ RPM, exactly half the speed of 33 ⅓.  Although these discs—usually 7-inches in diameter with a large 45 RPM-like hole—could hold up to 20 minutes of content, the speed was too slow to capture any real fidelity within its grooves.  Their primary use was talking books for the blind and spoken-word recordings (interviews, drama, documentaries) for radio station use.

Dpod
21 Jan, 2015

Take a good look at this quote:

“Forms and rhythms in music are never altered without producing changes in the entire fabric of society…It is here that we must be so careful, since these new forms creep in imperceptibly in the form of a seemingly harmless diversion. But little by little, this mischief becomes more and more familiar and spreads into our manners and pursuits. Then, with gathering force, it invades men’s dealings with on another and goes on to attack the laws and the constitution with reckless impudence until it ends by overthrowing the whole structure of public and private life!”

 

Dpod
17 Jan, 2015

It’s a fact that on average, women live longer than men.  But why?  One thought is that it might have to do with estrogen and the protective benefits it bestows on the body.  So it might stand to reason that people with higher levels of estrogen might live longer.

Female opera singers that can hit the highest notes—sopranos—have noticeably higher levels of estrogen than female singers with a deeper register.

Dpod
16 Jan, 2015

When David Byrne was with the Talking Heads, he was determined that the band always be ahead of the times. But one time, the band was too far ahead.  When their 1988 album Naked was released, it was touted as being “graphics-ready.” 

This meant that if you were to buy a special CD player with a special decoder, you could watch the lyrics of the songs pass by in real-time on your television.  You could also watch for a list of which instruments were playing when.

 

Dpod
15 Jan, 2015

What comes to mind when you think of the city of Manchester and its musical history?  The Smiths, the Stone Roses, Oasis, New Order, Joy Division, karaoke.

Wait–?

Along with some great music, Manchester was also the birthplace of the karaoke machine.  In 1975, an inventor named Roy Brooke built something he called “Roy’s Sing-a-Long Machine.”  The concept was simple.  A cassette machine played an instrumental version of a popular song while someone sang along into a microphone that was pumped through the same machine.  Suddenly, anyone could be a singer.

Dpod
14 Jan, 2015

Magnetic tape was a German invention first demonstrated in 1935. This clip features the oldest known tape recording using a prototype Magentophone built by AEG in 1934. 

Dpod
14 Jan, 2015

Here’s a little information for people who still treasure your CD collection. 

You may have noticed a sort of code on older releases—odd abbreviations like AAD or ADD and a few others. They tell us the process of how the CD was made.

The first “A” in “AAD” means that the music was made using analog equipment. The second “A” means that the mastering was done on analog gear. And the final “D” meant that you were holding a digital product.

Dpod
13 Jan, 2015

If you’re a music fan, you owe a lot of Jim Russell because he has had a massive impact on your life.

You’ve never heard of Jim Russell?  Don’t feel bad.  Few people have.  Yet Jim is the guy who pretty much invented both the CD and the DVD.

“Hold on,” you say, “Wasn’t that technology jointly developed by Sony and Philips back in the 70s?”  Yes, it was—but only after they licensed technology that Jim developed back in the 1960s.  He had come up with a way to record data on glass which was then read by a laser.

Dpod
11 Jan, 2015

If you know where to look, music can be found just about everywhere, even in space.

Back in 2005, astronomers have discovered sound waves coming from a giant black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy, which is located in the heart of a bunch of galaxies called the, some 50 million light-years away. You can’t hear them, obviously, because they’re so low on the scale that the waves themselves are spaced four million years apart, which means you get hit with the first wave and have to wait four million years for the next one to come along. That’s deepbass.

Dpod
11 Jan, 2015

We take the ability to turn music up as loud as we want for granted. But this is something that we’ve only been able to do for the last 70 years or so. 

What did people do back before there were such things as electronic amplifiers?

One solution was to use compressed air. Back in 1906, rich people (along with bars, hotels and other places that wanted to play gramophone records for large crowds) bought something called an auxetophone. This was a gramophone that used a convoluted system of compressed air to amplify music come out of one of those old-fashioned horn speakers. And it wasn’t very adjustable. It was either on (meaning the music was very loud) or off (in which case the volume was very low). Still, it was state-of-the-art stuff for 1906.

Dpod
10 Jan, 2015

Contrary to what you might think, animals do have a capacity for music. The difference, though, is that because their vocal ranges, hearing abilities and heart rates differ from humans, they don’t recognize music the same way we do. 

Your dog perceives whatever you’re listening to as, well, noise. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make music for animals. It’s just that it has to be species specific.

Dpod
09 Jan, 2015

The person who came up with the idea of storing music on a rotating disc was Emile Berliner. Strangely, he stumbled on the idea when he was looking for a way to mass produce, something that had stymied the great American inventor.

But as the inventor of the rotating disc format, it stands to reason that in order to show how his new gramophone thingy worked, Berliner needed a record to play. So, in 1889, he made the first record himself, featuring him reciting the words of a German ballad. This was 1889.

Dpod
08 Jan, 2015

The war effort brought America out of the Depression. Employment was high and wages were good. 

But with the end of WW II came the end of that massive industrial build-up. Factories laid off workers and disposable income fell.

This impacted directly on the size of popular orchestras and big bands. Venues were no longer willing to pay the heavy costs associated with these groups. Bandleaders had no choice but to downsize to smaller combos.

Dpod
08 Jan, 2015

Why is the hole in the middle of a 7-inch single so big?  Believing that consumers didn’t want 22 minutes of music per side as they were getting with Columbia’s new 33 ⅓ REMP album, RCA went with the tried-and-true one-song-per-side format.  

The discs were originally meant to be stacked on the thick spindles of RCA-manufactured phonographs.

The larger hole was necessary to (a) allow the disc to slide more easily down the spindle; and (b) more evenly distribute the torque exerted on the record when it dropped onto the turntable and needed to speed up to 45 RPM instantly.  Engineers found that these forces would fray a small hole, make it go out of round and cause it to wobble as it rotated.  It was all simple physics, really.

Dpod
07 Jan, 2015

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he set about remaking the company from a computer manufacturer into a consumer electronics company.  

Dpod
07 Jan, 2015

Through the 1990s and 2000s, U2 launched some of the most ambitious tours ever staged.

The 1992-93 Zoo TV stage included 36 different video screens that showed fast cuts of live and pre-recorded video.  The stage itself stretch 248 feet by 80 feet.  The production required 176 speaker enclosures, 312 subwoofers, 592 mid-range speakers, 18 projectors, 26 microphones and a series of portable video cameras.  Everything was directed from a portable studio worth $3.5 million.  Fifty-two trucks were required to transport the 1,200 tons of gear.  Personnel travelled in 12 buses and a 180-person chartered jet.

Dpod
05 Jan, 2015

When rock n’ roll began to spread eastward through Europe in the 1950s, Soviet authorities became very alarmed at this rebellious, capitalist music.  Rock was effectively banned behind the Iron Curtain.                                                        

 

Official policy, however, did not stop the music from spreading.  Although it was nearly impossible to trade in proper vinyl records and 78s, some enterprising Russians found ways to smuggle this music to fans.

 

Dpod
03 Jan, 2015

There are instances of the f-bomb accidentally sneaking into a recording—some say there’s such an oopsie in the Kink’s “You Really Got Me” as well as a John Lennon slip in “Hey Jude”—but the first documented deliberate use is credited to The Fugs.

 

The Fugs were a strange underground rock band formed in 1964 and refused to conform to any kind of status quo—and that extended to their use of language on their recordings.  In 1965, they issued a song entitled “CIA Man”  Here’s a sample of the lyrics:

 

 

Dpod
03 Jan, 2015

Like the transistor radio in the 50s and 60s, the Sony Walkman and its competitors (like TEAC, Panasonic, Toshiba, Aiwa and many others) defined the portable music market. 

  • The first North American model of the Walkman, the TPS-L2, was introduced in June 1980.  It weighed 14 ounces and ran on two AA batteries.
     
  • The first Walkman had two headphone jacks because Sony couldn’t fathom anyone not wanting to share in their music-listening experience.
     
  • “Walkman” entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1986.

 

  • In 1983, pre-recorded cassettes outsold vinyl records, largely because of the popularity of portable music players like the Walkman.
     
  • The Walkman coincided with the fitness craze of the 80s.  The Walkman made workouts more entertaining.


 

Dpod
02 Jan, 2015

For the first seven decades of recorded sound, the goal of the technology was to try to make a recording that sounded as close to reality as possible. But with the advent of  and sophisticated studio technology, perfection wasn’t enough. Instead of trying to make recordings that were merely faithful to performance, many artists, producers and engineers sought to achieve something beyond perfection. Using twenty-four track (and beyond) machines running reels of tape two inches wide at up to 30 inches per second , artists were able to create unimaginably complicated multi-layered compositions that were impossible to recreate outside the studio.

 

Dpod
31 Dec, 2014

Stereo records were first made available the general public in the spring of 1958. The technology was welcomed by classical aficionados, jazz artists and arrangers of original cast recordings of Broadway plays or Hollywood movies.  But making stereo records meant very little to rock artists—at least initially.

Abbey Road, the base for the Beatles recording output, was a mono (one-track facility) until the early 60s before it was upgraded to two-track equipment.  By the time George Martin and the Beatles started working in Studio 2, four-track machines had been installed.  But even though parts were recorded on separate tracks, the standard practice was to mix everything down to mono.

 

 

 

Dpod
30 Dec, 2014

When Columbia Records introduced the 12-inch long-playing recorded in June 1948, they offered to license the new format to their rivals at RCA. 

CEO David Sarnoff would have none of it and ordered his engineers to come up with something better.

The result was the 7-inch 45 RPM single, introduced by RCA in March 1949.  It differed from the LP in several ways.

  1. It was smaller;
  2. It had a big hole in the center;
  3. It was designed to play only on RCA-manufactured turntables; and
  4. All 45s were color-coded by genre.
Dpod
29 Dec, 2014

In 1906,—the famous composer of marching music—was an opponent of recorded music technology.  He was especially concerned that recorded music would lead to a decline of amateur musicians.  He wrote this in an essay called “The Menace of Mechanical Music:” 

This wide love for the art springs from the singing school, secular or sacred; from the village band, and from the study of those instruments that are nearest the people.

There are more pianos, violins, guitars, mandolins, and banjos among the working classes of America than in all the rest of the world… [B]ut now the automatic the automatic music devices are usurping their places.

 

 

 

 

Dpod
29 Dec, 2014

While rooting around backstage at The Science of Rock N’ Roll, Director of Content Alan Cross finds the first commercial headphones by Koss.

Dpod
29 Dec, 2014

Eldridge R. Johnson was an American entrepreneur who saw something in Thomas Edison’s talking machine that Edison couldn’t see himself.  

While Edison was focused on using his invention to capture speech, Johnson saw the potential for music.  In doing so, he essentially created the modern music industry.

In 1901, he founded the Victor Talking Machine Company in Camden, New Jersey.  Over the following decades, the company became immensely successful and extremely important in spreading the concept of recorded music.

By making record players for the entire planet—often in the form of stylish furniture, not in the industrial look of Edison’s original phonographs—the company helped turn music into a new, powerful international cultural force.  Music also became a commodity that could be sold to the general public.

 

Dpod
28 Dec, 2014

The Soviets weren’t big on American jazz.  In 1928, they declared that the playing of this music was punishable by up to six months in jail.  

Dpod
27 Dec, 2014

During the Voyager and Cassini missions, NASA recorded electromagnetic signals emitted by the planets of the solo system. 

Dpod
27 Dec, 2014

His name was Howard H. Scott.  And if you’ve ever put the needle down on a 33 1/3 RPM record, you owe something to him.

Scott was part of Dr. Peter Goldmark’s team at Columbia Records which invented the long-playing (LP) album.

After WWII and at the age of 26, he was assigned to Columbia’s top-secret skunkworks lab where scientists were trying to come up with something to replace the 78 RPM disc.  Scott’s job was to help with transferring music from the old 78s to the new LPs.  Specifically, the boffins needed someone who could read orchestral scores.  Scott was their man.

Dpod
26 Dec, 2014

Watch the video >

Dpod
26 Dec, 2014

Anthropologists say that the earliest evidence of music-making lies with Neanderthals some 45,000 years ago. 

They played flutes apparently based around what’s now known as the diatonic scale (the seven  notes we use in Western music today plus an eighth note, which is the first note of the scale but an octave higher.)  The first of these flutes were unearth in Divje Babe in modern-day Slovenia.

Additional evidence suggests that the Sumerians (c.3100-2000 BCE) and the Babylonians (c. 2000-1600 BCE) also composed music using the diatonic scale.

 

Dpod
26 Dec, 2014

Pythagoras (c. 570-c. 495 BCE) is best known for his theorem that says that in the right-angles triangle the area of the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares on the other two sides.  

But Pythagoras took a scientific interesting in music, too.  He believed that musical notes had mathematical properties.  Although he went down some dead ends, his theories eventually came to describe the properties of strings used in musical instruments.  Pythagoras was fascinated by an apparent congruency between music and math.
 
 
The answer lies in the ratio of the length of a free string to where it is stopped (say, with a finger).  For example, if a string tuned to middle C is stopped exactly halfway along its length, the two equal segments of the string will vibrate at exactly one octave above middle C.
 
 
 
Dpod
26 Dec, 2014

Just about everyone has some kind of portable device that plays music: iPod, iPhone, some other kind of phone, an MP3 player. But what was the first portable personal music device? 

If you said the Sony Walkman, you’re wrong.

A German inventor named Andreas Pavel patented a cassette-and-headphones device he called the “Stereobelt” in 1977, almost two years before Sony introduced the Walkman. When Sony introduced their product, Pavel sued and kept after Sony for more than twenty years until there was some kind of settlement for millions of euros. He then went after Apple and other manufacturers of MP3 players.

Let this be a lesson, kids: make sure you understand patents.

Dpod
26 Dec, 2014

There’s been plenty of news lately regarding computer analysis of music.  It’s getting slower and sadder. It’s sounding more and more the same. Record labels are using algorithms to vet songs for their hit potential. 

 

For a musical purist who believes in the transcendent spirit of music, it’s all a little depressing.

However, the scientists involved in some of these studies would like us to consider a different interpretation.  From the New York Times:

 

Dpod
25 Dec, 2014

While Thomas Edison was the first person to figure out how to capture sound for later playback with his phonograph in 1877, he wasn’t the first person to document sound in a physical form.

Dpod
24 Dec, 2014

For centuries, musicians collaborated on new works by being in the same place at the same time.  Today, though, technology has made that unnecessary.  

By zinging digital files anywhere in the world, many composers work with their collaborators remotely.  Now here’s the question:  how does this change the nature of the final product?

 

Dpod
23 Dec, 2014

Two reasons:

(1) Vinyl used to be made of really crappy stuff. 

When CDs were first put up against vinyl in the early 80s, it wasn’t really a fair fight.  

The energy crisis of the 1970s had shifted the record industry towards recycled vinyl as a way to save money in an era of high petrochemical prices.  Crappy recycled vinyl meant more surface noise:  hiss, rumbles, snaps and crackles.

Dpod
23 Dec, 2014

It was October 1, 1982, that Sony released the CDP-101, the first commercially-available compact disc player. 

Dpod
22 Dec, 2014

Researchers in robotics often dip into the creative world as they try to advance the cause of artificial intelligence.  Scientists at the University of Palermo in Italy, have been working with a singing (!) robot built by Japan’s Hiroshi Laboratory.

 

The robot—known as a Telenoid—is being taught how to replicate certain movements and sounds made by human singers, complete with all sorts of emotional nuances.  Once fully programmed, researchers will see if this will allow the robot to improvise with its singing.  If they’re successful, not only will be a major advance in robotics but it may also shed some light on the nature of human consciousness.  By knowing what connections the robot makes in its improvising, this may help sort out what happens when humans do the same thing.

 

 

 

Dpod
20 Dec, 2014

Club culture took off on a worldwide scale with the arrival of disco in about 1976, a sound that was born in the gay community of New York City. 

Disco’s first DJ star was Francis Gasso, who was perhaps the first person to present beat-mixing to audiences.  This technique had been made much easier with the introduction of the Technics SL-1200 turntable, which became the global standard for DJs.

As club culture developed, DJing developed more and more into an art.  Studying what made people dance, DJs were led into areas of remixing, programming, extending, adjusting and otherwise manipulating the sound of the original recording.  If, for example, a DJ noticed that particular passage of a song was popular with dancers, he might take that section and extend it by editing the same passage together again and again.  At first, these extended versions were played to the crowd on reel-to-reel tape but later pressed onto special edition vinyl.

Dpod
18 Dec, 2014

For the first half of the 20th century, the idea of paying for the privilege of hearing someone play records for an audience wasn’t all that appealing. 

But beginning in 1943, Englishman Jimmy Savile began playing 78 RPM records in men’s clubs in the UK using a homemade sound system.  Because so many musicians had been sent to war, Jimmy’s act was considered to be an acceptable substitute.

As Savile’s reputation was spreading in the UK, the French invented the word discotheque, deriving it from bibliotheque, the word for library.  The first discotheque was in the port city of Marseille.  Sailors stored their music collections in the back rooms of cafes while they were out to see.  When they returned home, they’d spend hours either playing these records or listening to others play theirs in the same cafes.

Dpod
17 Dec, 2014

Stereo records were introduced in 1958.  The two-channel listening experience (stereophonic sound) proved to be so popular that within ten years almost all record labels stopped producing mono records. 

In 1952, Emory Cook introduced a form of stereo record is introduced involving the left and right channels cut into parallel grooves on the record and played with a special double stylus.  About 25 records were made for this system.

 

Dpod
16 Dec, 2014

For the first 80 years of recorded sound, everything was monophonic or “monaural.”  This meant that the recording was made using just one device—an acoustic horn, a microphone—to collect the sound and deliver it to the recording device. 

All sound was reduced to a single channel with everything appearing to come from a single direction.

Phonograph cylinders and all discs (78s, 33 1/3 RPM LPs and 45 RPM singles) were all monaural recordings prior to 1958.  AM radio and TV audio was also in mono.  However, we have two ears which give us the ability to determine the direction and origins of sound.

Dpod
15 Dec, 2014

Here are some miscellaneous speaker facts:

  • The first loudspeaker was patented on December 14, 1877 by Ernest Siemens of Germany.
  • Chester W. Rice and Edward E. Kellogg patented the modern moving loudspeaker in 1924 while working for General Electric.  Their design, sold as a feature of AC-powered radios by RCA under the name Radiola, set new standards for audio quality.  They cost $250 each, which is equivalent to about $3,000 today.
     
  • In the 1920s, speaker technology was developed first with movie theatres in mind.  In 1926, the Vitaphone sound system was developed at Bell Labs.  The mouth of the speaker covered 40 square feet.
     
  • In 1927, James Lansing formed a company that built 6- and 8-inch speaker cones for radios at a factory in South Los Angeles.
Dpod
14 Dec, 2014

There are many other types of driver designs beyond the common cone-and-coil construction.

  • Horn speakers are acoustic megaphones that require very large enclosures to be able to reproduce sound.

 

 

Dpod
13 Dec, 2014

A speaker is a device known as a transducer.  This means it converts one form of energy into another.  In the case of a speaker, it converts the electrical energy of an audio signal into the kinetic energy of sound.

Speakers evolved from the development of the telephone by Johann Philipp Reis, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Nikolai Tesla and others in the 1870s. Electrical speakers began replacing acoustic horns for sound reproduction by the 1920s.

 

 

Dpod
12 Dec, 2014

Three final things involving your brain and music:

  • A song gets stuck in your head is called an “earworm.”  Scientists are fascinated by them because they offer insight into how the brain forms and retrieves memories.  

 

 

Dpod
11 Dec, 2014

Scientists are fascinated by the relationship between music and the human brain.  From an evolutionary perspective, there doesn’t seem to be a reason for humans to make music yet there’s never been a culture that hasn’t felt the need to make it.

There are three areas of the brain responsible for secreting a hormone called dopamine:  the nucleus accumbens, the amygdala and the cerebellum.  Dopamine a neurotransmitter and controls the body’s natural reward and response pleasure centers.  In other words, it is the natural “feel good” hormone.  Whenever the body receives a jolt of dopamine, it finds it pleasurable.  Consciously or unconsciously, we embark on a constant search to find those things that make our brains secrete dopamine in response.

 

 

Dpod
11 Dec, 2014

Music can have strong therapeutic effects.  It is often used in the treatment of depression, learning disabilities, brain injuries, migraines and pain management.  A thanatologist is a therapist that uses music for palliative care. 

The use of music for motivation has been known since ancient times.  The ancient Greeks used music to pump up soldiers for war.  Athletes use music to prepare them for competition, to exercise longer and harder and to provide a distraction from fatigue and pain.  Music can also be used for calming purposes.  The right music can reduce blood pressure and send the brain into a more restful state.

 

 

Dpod
10 Dec, 2014

Few people stop to think about the effect the acoustics of a live venue have on the composer and how he/she writes songs in response to those acoustical properties.

For example, the place where anyone could be guaranteed to hear music in the Middle Ages was in the vast stone gothic cathedrals that dotted Europe.  With high ceilings, massive columns and hard surfaces everywhere, these buildings were acoustic nightmares.  Sounds echoed and reverberated everywhere.

 

 

Dpod
10 Dec, 2014

CDs have been vilified for being an environmental hazard from the moment they were introduced. 

Critics pointed to their composition (non-biodegradable plastic and aluminum), the plastic jewel cases, the wasteful packaging (remember the longbox?), the inks used in printing the booklets and the shrinkwrap.

Then there’s the energy that goes into producing the discs, plus the carbon emissions created by transporting and warehousing the discs.

Dpod
10 Dec, 2014

Apple’s iTunes store in the most popular music retailer in the world.  Here’s how it all came to be: 

Apple purchased Soundjam, a software program that made it easy to organize music files on a hard drive.  The program is rewritten and turned into iTunes, which is released on January 8, 2001.  The original iTunes was Mac-only and did not sell music downloads. It was simply a digital jukebox.

 

Dpod
09 Dec, 2014

Before the phonograph and the gramophone, music was very much a social event.  People gathered at a common location—a club, a concert hall, a bandstand—to enjoy music together. 

But when phonographs and gramophones started appearing in private homes in the early 20th century, there was a radical shift.  The living room (or wherever the machine was) replaced the concert hall and the club.

 

 

Dpod
08 Dec, 2014

Before the microphone, singers had to protect their voices in a way they could be heard above the instruments.  The object was volume.  But then came the microphone and everything changed.

Because their voices were now being electrically amplified, they no longer needed to worry about volume.  This allowed singers like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra to learn new techniques combining their voices and the pick-up characteristics of the microphone.  They found they could now sing softer and with many more nuances.  “Crooning,” they called it.

Dpod
08 Dec, 2014

Many forms of music—classical music, devotional music—is carefully constructed and is meant to be played in a proscribed way. 

 Rock and jazz are different in that there’s always been an element of improvisation.

An example of this is the solo, that bit in the song where the guitarist, the pianist, the saxophonist or whoever steps out and plays a solo.  Solos appear when the melody runs out.  There are no more words to sing.  In order to keep the groove going—usually the most popular part of the song for dancers—solos evolved as a way of stretching things out.

Proto-jazz musicians were the first to popularize these improvisations and in doing so helped the whole notion of jazz come into being.  By the time rock was born in the 1950s, it was common for popular bits of songs to be extended this way, so it was only natural for the electric guitar to take the place of traditional jazz instruments in rock n' roll songs.

 
 
Dpod
07 Dec, 2014

One of the most famous logos in rock n' roll is the Rolling Stones lips’n’tongue design that first appeared in 1971.  But there’s another tongue that is even more important to Stones history.

While attending Dartford Grammar School, Mick Jagger became the captain of the basketball team. He was an average player but by all accounts a good team leader.  During one particular rough game, Mick ran into a player from the opposing team.  He bit his tongue so hard that he actually bit off the tip—and swallowed it.

 

Dpod
06 Dec, 2014

Here are some interesting numbers from the US music industry as more and more consumers move from physical to digital goods.

  • Between 2001 and 2012, sales in record stores declined by 76% as people moved away from buying CDs.
     
  • Total CD sales fell more than 50% between 2000 and 2009.
     
  • In January 2012, sales of digital music passed those of physical product for the first time.
     
  • In 1999, it was virtually impossible to purchase a single song.  You either had to buy a single (which featured a minimum of two songs) or a full album.  Thanks to services like iTunes, sales of single tracks in 2009 totaled 1.2 billion.
Dpod
05 Dec, 2014

RCA introduced the 7-inch 45 RPM single in 1949 to compete against arch-rival Columbia Records’ new 33 1/3 long-playing albums. 

These companies went at it throughout the 50s, eventually figuring out a way to share the marketplace for pre-recorded music.  But in 1960, RCA announced something they called the Compact 33 Double and Single.

For a time, they were released at the same time as their 45 RPM counterparts.  The goal was to phase out the 45 RPM record speed and standardize everything at 33 1/3.  It didn’t work, however, as consumers—especially rock fans—seemed to really like the 45.  The campaign ended in failure in early 1962.

 
Dpod
04 Dec, 2014

Epic prog-rock productions have nothing on Daniel Starr-Tambor.  Neither do the Flaming Lips with their twenty-four hour song.  And John Cage’s “As Slow As Possible?”  Pish.

Dpod
03 Dec, 2014

The Large Hadron Collider, the massive device being used to solve the subatomic mysteries of the universe, has so far failed (at least of this writing) to prove the existence of the Higgs boson. However, it has become the world’s most expensive musical instrument.

Without getting too technical about it, the LHC accelerates particles to extreme velocities and then has them smash together.  The debris from these collisions is then examined for evidence of even smaller particles. These collisions and the tracks of the wreckage are viewed in something called a cloud chamber.  With me so far?

Domenico Vicinanza, a composer and network engineer, has taken these particle trails from cloud chambers and converted them into music.  When played on a piano, it sounds like this.

How much did that cost?  About $9 billion.  More details here.

Dpod
02 Dec, 2014

A microphone (or “mic” or sometimes “mike”) is the device that picks up sound and turns it into an electrical signal.  It is known as a “transducer.”

Microphones were first developed for telephones—so-called “carbon” mics that uses grains of carbon between two metal plates. Thomas Edison is credited with being the inventor of this technology in the late 1800s.

 

Dpod
01 Dec, 2014

Before the Voyager space probes were launched in 1977, someone had the good sense to organize the manufacture of a very special record.

Known as the Voyager Golden Disc Records, they are two phonograph records that contain the sounds of Earth in their grooves.  A committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University was responsible for picking these songs.

Along with greetings in dozens of languages, there’s a selection of music from around the world.  Of all those tracks, there is just one rock song:  a recording of Chuck Berry doing “Johnny B. Goode.”  Should aliens ever intercept one of these spacecraft (hey, it happened in the first Star Trek movie), that will be their first exposure to rock n' roll.

Dpod
30 Nov, 2014

Everyone knows someone who just doesn’t seem to “get” music,  They have no rhythm, they can’t carry a tune—and maybe they just don’t even care about music.  Why?

It could be they have a condition that some scientists called “dysmusia,” which is just like dyslexia, except that it describes a music condition.

Just like dyslexic people have a hard time comprehending written words and text, dysmusic people have a very hard time comprehending music—and this inability to appreciate music can run very, very deep.

 

Dpod
29 Nov, 2014

You know when a certain piece of music sends a shiver down your spine or gives you chills? That’s a real involuntary response. 

The song creates the same response in your brain that you get from chocolate or a bump of cocaine or sex. The music fired those exact same neural circuits.

 

 

Dpod
28 Nov, 2014

Think about how much music you hear when you leave the house.  It’s in stores, restaurants, malls, airports—everywhere.  That’s very nice, but how often is that music used to manipulate your behavior?

Let’s start with restaurants.  A growing number of eateries are enlisting companies that specialize in creating playlists for restaurants.  And this is for more than just ambience.

There are studies that show that music with a slow tempo during dinner service an increase bar sales by as much as 40%.  People are relaxed, eat slower and reach for their drinks more often.  Ubeat music may make for a certain vibe, but it won’t help bar sales.

Dpod
27 Nov, 2014

Smart lawyers are sending out letters to clients, urging them to think about a new wrinkle in estate planning.

Now that each of us is quickly acquiring vast libraries of digital assets–music files, ebooks, audio books–who gets them when we die?

All these digital things are in some way tangibly tied to the person who purchased them.  How do the rights to these digital things get transferred once the person who purchased them is no longer around?  This is actually a great question.  This will be a major issue starting…well, right about now. Might be time to revisit the will, you know?

Dpod
26 Nov, 2014

If you’re into the gear that goes with guitars, there’s a book called Amped:  The Illustrated History of the World’s Greatest Amplifiers.

This thing was lovingly put together and contains pictures and stories about rock’s greatest get-loud boxes.  The includes the Marshall stack, the Vox amps used by the Beatles, Hiwatt Customs favored by guys like Pete Townshend, Fender Twin Reverbs, Ampeg bass amps, Mesa Boogies, Oranges, Trainwrecks, Rickenbackers and TONS more.

If you’re into guitars and the things that make them loud, this is a book worth owning.  The Illustrated History of the World’s Greatest Amplifiers by Dave Hunter is out now.

Dpod
25 Nov, 2014

The members of Blur are all big fans of science, especially bass player Alex James.  The first inkling we got of this was the song “Far Out” on 1994’s Parklife album, which featured the lyrics “Vega Capella Hadar Rigel Barnard’s Star/Antares Aldebaran Altair Wolf 359/Betelgeuse sun sun sun.”  

 

When the European Space Union announced plans for a Mars probe, James became deeply involved in the campaign the fund the mission.  He also helped compose a musical piece called “Beagle 2.”  Had the probe landed safely in late 2003, it would have played this Blur song to confirm a successful touchdown.  Unfortunately, something went wrong and the probe was lost.

Dpod
24 Nov, 2014

For decades, the preferred medium for recording music was magnetic tape.  But with the advent of digital technologies, analog methods—including tape—feel into disuse.  

Quanegy of Opelika, Alabama, was the last manufacturer of reel-to-reel recording tape for professional recording studios.  It closed down in January 2005.  The last European manufacturer closed down in 2002.

Dpod
23 Nov, 2014

One of the inherent problems with magnetic tape is the audible hiss that’s generated as the tape is drawn past the recording and playback heads.

This was a problem that perplexed engineers in the 1950s and 60s.  In 1965, Dolby Laboratories was founded in London with the purpose of eliminating (or at least reducing) tape hiss.

Ray Dolby’s first product was Type A Dolby Noise Reduction, which helped bring out quiet sounds that normally would be drowned up by tape hiss.  After successfully marketing this technology to recording studios and record labels, Type B Dolby Noise Reduction was licensed to manufacturers of consumer electronics products in 1968.

Dpod
22 Nov, 2014

Recent research (summer 2012) at the University College London and Newcastle University has noted structural changes in the brains of piano tuners.

Repeated careful listening and tuning have resulted in very specific changes in the tuners’ hippocampus, the area of the brain that takes care of memory and navigation.  MRI scans prove it that years of working on pianos have created more grey matter (where information processing happens) and more white matter (the nerve connections).

This didn’t come entirely as a surprise.  Neuroscientists studying musicians have observed the same thing: that music changes the actual structure and wiring of the human brain.

Seems to me that this is another excellent reason to take music lessons, no?  Read more here.

Dpod
21 Nov, 2014

Amplifiers boost a signal electronically so it can be heard over a larger area.  There were many experiments with such technology in the early 20th century, especially after the introduction of radio and talkie motion pictures. 

The guitar amplifier was born at the same time as the electric guitar.  Obviously, an electric guitar would be useless without a device that would boost its volume to a point where it could be heard.  The first guitar amplifier company was Electro String (1931), co-founded by George Beauchamp, George Rickenbacker and Harry Watson, co-developers of the first electric guitar.  By 1941, they were selling four models out of a shop in Los Angeles.  Their maximum output was about 10 watts.

Dpod
20 Nov, 2014

The first drum machine appeared in the early 1930s but these purely mechanical devices were very difficult to use.  

The breakthrough came in 1959 with the Wurlitzer Sideman which utilized tape loops of pre-recorded rhythms.  Following the introduction of a variety of electro-mechanical drum machines through the 1960s, fully electronic units began to appear.

 

Dpod
19 Nov, 2014

There are many different types of electric keyboards.  Electronic organs—instruments designed to imitate acoustic pipe organs—first appeared in 1934. 

Organs appeared in the home beginning in the 1950s and became very popular through the 1970s.  The Hammond B3 was originally marketed as a home organ but was adopted by musicians who were looking for a loud overdriven (i.e. distorted) sound.  Many linked their B3s to Leslie speakers, an integrated speaker/amplifier cabinet with a rotating horn which offered interesting Doppler effects.  Jon Lord of Deep Purple and Rob Collins of the Charlatans UK were famous for their B3 sounds.

 

Dpod
18 Nov, 2014

The original bass guitar was an acoustic instrumental that stood around 6 feet tall.  It had to be that big because so much interior volume was required to allow the plucked bass notes to be heard.

But ever since the late 1950s, the most common bass guitar in rock is the electric bass.  It looks very similar to the electric guitar but with thicker (heavier gauge) steel strings that provide notes lower than those found on a regular guitar.  The bass provides the bridge between melody and rhythm.

The bass guitar can have 4, 5, 6 or 8 strings.  It’s played by picking, plucking, strumming, slapping or popping.  Most bass guitars have frets along the neck although there are fretless models.

Dpod
17 Nov, 2014

An electric guitar is played the same way as an acoustic except that it uses a pickup to convert the vibrations of the strings into electrical impulses that can be amplified and otherwise manipulated.  

A pickup is a magnet wrapped in fine copper wire.  When the metal strings vibrate above the magnet, the resulting flux in the magnetic field creates a current that is sent to the amplifier.

What we would recognize as the first true electric guitar was invented in 1931 for musicians who needed help being heard amongst the other instrumentation in jazz bands and blues combos.  The first documented performance using an electrically amplified guitar was by Gage Brewer in Wichita, Kansas, in October 1932.

 

 

Dpod
15 Nov, 2014

The guitar is first mentioned in literature in the 13th century. It descended from ancient stringed instruments in India and central Asia that appear to have come westward with Arab traders.  

The roots of the modern guitar are found in Spain, most likely in the area of Malaga.

An acoustic guitar is played by plucking or strumming the strings with one hand and using the fingers of the other to manipulate the effective length of each of the strings so that they produce vibrations of different frequencies.  The less of the string that is allowed to vibrate, the higher the frequency.  Heavy and thicker stringer vibrate more slowly than lighter ones which means they create lower notes.

Dpod
14 Nov, 2014

I’ll answer that.  No, they don’t.  Not even an audiophile freak like me.

Yes, I demand equipment that can deliver the lowest possible distortion and the highest possible signal-to-noise ratio–but I reserve the right to tweak the music as I see fit.

Everyone’s ears are different.  Everyone’s tastes are different. Recordings differ.  Listening environments differ.  That’s why we have bass and treble controls.

Where I draw the line is having someone make those tweak choices for me.  I’m looking at you, Beats by Dr. Dre headphones.

Dpod
13 Nov, 2014

Anyone into boy bands of the 90s might be acquainted with an Irish group called D:Ream.  Their biggest bit of success came with a hit in the UK called “Things Can Only Get Better” in 1994.

Dpod
11 Nov, 2014

Brian May is best known as the guitarist for Queen.  But he also has more than a passing interest in science.  

His father was an engineer for the British Ministry of Aviation and he had high hopes that his son would also embark on some kind of scientific career.  He was most disappointed when Brian abandoned his scientific education for rock n' roll.

But he did accomplish a few things first.  Studying physics and math at Imperial College London, he graduated with an honors degree.  Although he bailed on his PhD to concentrate on queen, he did manage to co-author two papers:  MgI Emission in the Night-Sky Spectrum (1972) and An Investigation of the Motion of Zodiacal Dust Particles (Part I) (1973).  For those papers, he spent quite a bit of time at the Teide Observatory in the Canary Islands.

Dpod
10 Nov, 2014

The members of Blur are all big fans of science, especially bass player Alex James.  The first inkling we got of this was the song “Far Out” on 1994’s Parklife album, which featured the lyrics “Vega Capella Hadar Rigel Barnard’s Star/Antares Aldebaran Altair Wolf 359/Betelgeuse sun sun sun.” 

When the European Space Union announced plans for a Mars probe, James became deeply involved in the campaign the fund the mission.  He also helped compose a musical piece called “Beagle 2.”  Had the probe landed safely in late 2003, it would have played this Blur song to confirm a successful touchdown.  Unfortunately, something went wrong and the probe was lost.

Dpod
09 Nov, 2014

In 1953, John C. Koss took $200 of the money he and his wife received as wedding gifts and bought 20 broken-down TVs. ​

He fixed them up and then rented them to hospitals, which in turn rented them to bored patients.  He made some okay money that way.  Then in the fall of 1958, he unveiled his new product:  a portable music system called the Koss 390 phonograph player.  It was pretty big and bulky and was pretty much a failure when he showed it off at an audio exposition.  Part of it was its design.  But most of the attention was sucked away by another Koss product.

Dpod
07 Nov, 2014
  • The shelf life of a CD is estimated to be about 100 years.  Meanwhile, if stored correctly, a vinyl record can last forever.
     
  • If you stretched out the spiral of data included on a 5-inch compact disc, it would extended over 3.5 miles.
     
  • A CD can hold a maximum of 700MB of data.  A first-generation iPod could hold 5GB of data.
     
  • The first sub-$1000 CD burner was released in 1995.
     
  • CD players outsold turntables for the first time in 1986.
Dpod
06 Nov, 2014

Cool new album for Girls who Rock!

Dpod
04 Nov, 2014

A little while ago we set up a sneak preview at Union Station Kansas City. Looks like it went pretty well!

Dpod
04 Nov, 2014

Have you ever wondered about the science behind rock n’ roll? How has technology shaped this multi-billion dollar industry? 

How can performers bring hundreds of thousands of screaming fans to their feet? What physiological effects does rock have on our brain and body?

The Science of Rock N' Roll is a new ten thousand square-foot exhibition set to premier at the Union Station Kansas City in the fall of 2012. The exhibition provides a fresh look at the history of rock from the perspective of science and technology. See how music has shaped the tools of rock–and how those tools have changed the music.  Experience science in the key of rock!

 

 

 

 

 

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