Science of Rock Blog
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.
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
Featuring music by the Arkells, this video takes you behind the scenes to explain why there can be no rock n’ roll without science.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.