Speaking to artists, producers, engineers and inventors, the series shines a light on innovations such as the synthesizer, the electric guitar, the Hammond organ, samplers and drum machines, the recording studio, as well as the work of electronic music pioneers. To find out more, visit the BBC programme page.
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A history of music and technology
Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason explores the impact of technology on music throughout the years.
20th July 2019 at 12:06PM
Technology has changed the way we play music, how we listen to music, and music itself, and the series also explores where technology might take music in the future.
The idea of capturing sound had enchanted and puzzled humans for millennia, and just before the dawn of the 20th century, we finally figured it out, with the advent of the Phonograph and Gramophone.
Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason tells the story of the early recording industry, exploring the cultural impact of recorded music - and how listening was a habit we as consumers had to grow into.
The programme charts the speedy progression of sound recording over the last 100 years or so, revealing the surprising role Hollywood superstar Bing Crosby played in pushing technology forward.
And we learn how the emergence of new formats, such as the 7-inch single and compact cassette, were crucial in the emergence of punk and hip hop.
For centuries music was created by strumming strings, blowing horns and banging drums.
But at the turn of the 20th century, innovations in science, technology and entertainment fuelled a musical revolution, allowing artists to create tones and timbres that never previously existed – could never have existed – before the age of electricity.
Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason celebrates some of the pioneers of electronic music, including the genre’s first international star, Leon Theremin, to the avant-garde tape artists of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk to Bebe and Louis Barron, who defined the sound of 1950s science fiction.
The electric guitar is the instrument which defined 20th century pop culture.
In this programme, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason tells the story of the electric guitar, revealing how a frying pan, a railroad track and the paradise island of Hawaii all played a role in its evolution.
In turn, the programme charts how the desire to get louder fundamentally altered the instrument’s sound.
And while its phallic frame has a reputation for turning musically-minded men into semi-mythical figures, we reveal how women are now playing the lead when it comes to the electric guitar today.
Laurens Hammond didn’t know how to play a musical instrument, and according to some accounts was tone deaf – and yet this avid inventor had an unparalleled influence on popular music.
When first unveiled, the unearthly tones of the Hammond Organ spooked audiences, but it went on to underscore a plethora of hits across a range of musical genres, from gospel to reggae to progressive rock.
Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason spins the tone wheels, pulls the drawbars and turns up the volume to tell the story of the world’s most-famous electric organ.
The first synthesizer was so big it filled an entire room, but during the 1960s inventors built downsized machines which would go on to revolutionise pop music.
Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason charts the work of synth pioneers Bob Moog, Don Buchla and Dave Smith in the story of the most influential electronic instrument of all time.
We learn how the synth came to sing with multiple voices, and how Japanese giants came to dominate the market - but arguably at the cost to creativity.
The invention of the drum machine and the sampler led to a seismic change in music making.
Throughout the century, from Mozart to Hendrix, virtuosity has been judged by an artist’s ability to play and perform. This new technology ushered in an era where the imagination rather than an ability to play an instrument, was the fuel for musical innovation.
Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason charts the story of the technology behind one of the most productive periods in popular music and its instrumental role in forging new genres from hip-hop to house, to techno and drum-n-bass.
The recording studio has changed dramatically since the advent of sound recording, as has our understanding of the ‘perfect take’.
In the first of two programmes about the history of the studio, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason explores the limitations of the acoustic era and how the switch to electrical recording ushered in the age of more intimate recording, giving rise to the superstar crooner.
We look at the how, after World War II, a boom in independent recording studios run by army-trained communications engineers helped to drive the birth of rock-n-roll, and how technology developed during the war made it possible for musicians to start recording music that was physically impossible to play, by using techniques pioneered by a man better known for his guitars - Les Paul.
Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason continues the story of the recording studio, exploring how bands such as The Beatles and The Beach Boys brought avant-garde production techniques into the mainstream during the 1960s.
The programme also charts the role jazz and dub reggae played in advancing studio production, and how increasingly sophisticated studio technology slowed down the recording process.
But the advent of portable tape recorders – and then digital technology - saw the studio begin to shrink in size, while at the same time expanding access to the recording process.
With it came a boom in in alternative music which was previously ignored by the major record labels, and bedroom producers making music on home computers kick-started an explosion in electronic dance music.
Today, digital studio technology has become so sophisticated that it can help even the shakiest of singers deliver the perfect performance.
In this final episode of the History of Music and Technology, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason discovers how rapid digital innovation is shaping the way we make, listen and interact with music.
He reveals how artificial intelligence is taking human input out of musical composition and how virtual reality is reshaping the recording studios of tomorrow.
But in an age where everyone can have access to music-making technology, how do you stand out? And has the internet made it too easy to copy what has come before us, rather than create something which is completely brand-new?
An unlikely pageant takes place every year in the American Rust Belt town of Dayton Ohio. Three hundred teams of high school and college students have made it to the finals of a national competition. In a giant sports arena, they throw, spin, and twirl flags, sabers and wooden rifles.
The activity known as the Colour Guard originated with the guard holding the flag marching in front of an army. Football teams then incorporated it into their half time routines. Now it’s developed into its own sophisticated, highly skilled and emotionally evocative art form, that takes place indoors during the winter. Known as Winter Guard or Sport of the Arts, it requires risk, skill, attentive teamwork, dramatic storylines and soundtracks.
The subjects of performances this year at Dayton ranged from the death of a pet to tornados to women in rock music history to bullying. Each group has about seven minutes to impress the judges. Props included a 1950’s car, ladders, a pool of flowers, animal masks and a replica of prison cell.
The competitors have practiced for six months. Many travel across America in buses. Most come from small towns and the activity isn’t well funded by schools. Yet these young people insist that this is the high point of their lives.
Body shape gender, racial or sexual identity isn’t an issue. They are pushing this grass roots, quintessentially American activity, to its limits. The packed arena cheers each breathtaking feat.
Presented by Judith Kampfner.
With the advent of improved infrastructure nationwide, electronic music is booming in Ethiopia. DJ and cultural consultant Zezi Ifore travels to Addis Ababa to discover 'Ethiopyawi Electronic', an elusive avantgarde scene eagerly showcased in recent Western media. Once on the ground, she quickly finds that the city’s musical environment is far more complex than she expected, instead giving rise to a surprising, yet dynamic scene.
From her home in LA, singer-songwriter Michelle Phillips tells the story of the group that made her famous, the Mamas and the Papas. It's 50 years since the quartet known for its cheery sound finally split up but their songs still endure to this day. In this programme, Michelle takes us back to the folk origins of the group which included Michelle and John Phillips, Denny Doherty and of course Cass Elliot (Mama Cass).
Combined with sharp songwriting and arrangements from John Phillips and musical contributions from some of Los Angeles' finest session musicians—especially drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Joe Osborne and keyboardist Larry Knechtel - the Mamas and the Papas created some of the most unforgettable songs of the 60s. "California Dreamin',' endures as an anthem of those heady times while they also had hits with, among others 'Monday, Monday' and 'I Saw Her Again'.
In this programme Michelle talks about their rise to fame, the inspiration for the songs, how they were written and how the group's close personal relationships with each other often influenced their song writing and lyrics. We also hear how the Mamas and the Papas were often seen as a defining force in the music scene of the counter culture of the 60s.
With contributions from Mama Cass's sister Leah Kunkel, founder of The Lovin Spoonful John Sebastian, singer Judy Collins and fellow 60s group The Association.
Oliver Mtukudzi was loved by people all over the world for his unique melodies – and by Zimbabweans for the messages of hope contained in his lyrics. There was a huge outpouring of grief when he died on 23 January 2019.
Tuku – as he was affectionately known – composed anthems of social lament and timeless wisdom, which were seen as a soundtrack to life in Zimbabwe for over four decades. He came to prominence in the 1970s as one of voices of the revolution fighting white-minority rule.
Mtukudzi saw himself as society’s conscience and used the proverbs of his Shona language to challenge people to live their best lives. His songs spoke out against women who were thrown out of homes when their husbands died, the stigma of HIV/Aids and spoke up for children suffering at the hands of alcoholic, abusive fathers.
To the chagrin of some, he steered clear of direct political confrontation with former president Robert Mugabe. But his 2001 song Wasakara, meaning "You Are Too Old", was banned as it was seen as a coded reference to Mugabe.
The BBC’s Kim Chakanetsa is in Harare and paints an intimate portrait of one of Africa's musical giants – through the insights of his daughters, close friends and musical collaborators. We explore his unprecedented, experimental sound – Tuku Music. And we look back at his life – the joys and the sorrows – through his music and archive, including a touching moment when he sings with his mother.
Where do musical ideas come from? What else, aside from imagination, shapes the way music evolves? Simon Zagorski-Thomas and guests investigate the ways in which social, economic and cultural forces have affected musical traditions around the world.
Tracks and artists discussed include the Bollywood hit, Wada Na Tod, sung by the legendary Indian singer Lata Mangheskar; Yembe Laroco by the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz and the unusual Japanese pop hit from the 1970s, Haisai Ojisan, written and performed by rocker and activist Shoukichi Kina.
Alexander Kolassa looks at how we hear music and discusses the categories which musical instruments belong to.Read now ❯How do musical instruments produce sound?
Dr Robert Samuels explores looping in music and demonstrates how technology can make musical use of the sound of a dog eating a carrot.Read now ❯Musicians, loops and the longest piece ever
On our music degree, you'll learn how music is created, study a wide range of styles, and unlock your own creativity. This degree will broaden and deepen your understanding of musical practices, encompassing western art music, jazz, popular music, and non-western musics. You'll develop the technical skills to analyse music in different styles, and the critical skills to discuss music in relation to its cultural contexts. You'll also acquire critical and reflective skills to develop your own musical practice. Add to that some expert guidance in the use of technology to create and record music, and you'll not just gain a degree but a passionate pursuit.Learn more ❯BA (Honours) Music
You will need a computer with internet access to study for this qualification. For most OU qualifications a Microsoft Windows (new since 2007), Apple Mac (OS X 10.6 or later) or Linux computer should be adequate. However, some qualifications require more specific IT equipment, in which case you will need additional software to use an Apple Mac or Linux computer. A detailed technical specification for your modules will be made available when you register. Please note, technical specifications do change over time to match computer developments and the way we teach.Learn more ❯BA (Honours) Arts and Humanities (Music)
This diploma will broaden and deepen your understanding of music through study of a wide range of genres (including western art music, jazz, popular music, and non-western musics). You will develop the technical skills to analyse and create music in different styles, and examine the technologies that are used to produce, manipulate and transmit music.Learn more ❯Diploma of Higher Education in Music
This module explores the nature of musical sound and the ways that technology can be used by musicians working in the creative industries. You'll be introduced to the skills needed for making recordings, and the module resources include software packages for analysing and editing recorded sound. You'll study how the physics of sound underlie musical experiences, and investigate the acoustic properties of different instruments. The module aims to deepen your understanding of the nature of sound and to equip you better as a musician, whatever your background and musical interests.Learn more ❯Music, sound and technology
This broadly-focused module introduces you to university-level study in the arts across a range of subject areas - art history, classical studies, English, history, philosophy, music and religious studies. It is structured around four themes, in order to guide you through some of the basic concerns of arts subjects: Reputations; Tradition and Dissent; Cultural Encounters; and Place and Leisure. Your studies will range from poetry to string quartets, and from sculpture to short stories ? across a wide variety of cultures and historical periods. This key introductory OU level 1 module is also a useful means of acquiring the key skills required for further study of arts and humanities subjects.Learn more ❯The arts past and present
This module is an introduction to the creative principles of music. You'll begin by examining the fundamental elements of Western music and comparing them with those of other musical cultures (such as India). You'll develop a detailed understanding of western rhythm, melody, harmony, polyphony, instrumentation, structure and form. You'll learn how to use these elements in song composition and ? by the end of the module ? will have written a complete song with piano accompaniment, using the Sibelius music notation software widely employed in the creative industries.Learn more ❯Inside music
Our free courses
Whether you're a professional musician, play music with your friends on the weekends or just like to listen to CDs, music technology affects your life. In this free course, Sound for music technology: An introduction, you will learn some of the basics of music technology, starting with what sound is, how it is created and how it travels.Learn more ❯Sound for music technology: An introduction
This free course, Recording music and sound, provides an historical introduction to music and sound recording in the creative industries and offers some guidance about making your own recordings. Many of the processes that have been developed and the issues that have been raised in the first 150 years of recording are still relevant today, and a solid grounding in them will help you understand the wide range of recording techniques currently in use.Learn more ❯Recording music and sound
Since the invention of the phonograph in 1877, the recording and playback of sound has been a key element of life in the western world. This free course, Revolutions in sound recording, traces the technology and characters of the sound recording industry as it advances from Edison's original phonograph to the formats we know today.Learn more ❯Revolutions in sound recording
Dr Sean Williams
After several years as an independent engineer and recording artist, Sean took an MSc in Sound Design at the University of Edinburgh and continued on a PhD in Creative Music Practice with Simon Frith and Martin Parker, focusing on the relationship between performance practice, instrument design, and composition in electronic music. He was awarded DAAD funding for several months research in Germany, which was followed by a 3 year Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellowship at the University of Edinburgh. He currently divides his time between lecturing at the University of Kent and The Open University.
Dr Robert Samuels
Robert studied for a Ph.D. in Music from 1987 to 1989 and graduated with the thesis, Semiotics and Mahler: Analyses of Musical Signification in the Sixth Symphony. Afterwards he was appointed Leverhulme Research Fellow in the Department of Music, the University of Lancaster, and in 1990 he was appointed Lecturer in the same department. In 1995 he was appointed Lecturer in the Music Department of the Open University.
Dr Alexander Kolassa
Alexander is a Lecturer in Music at the Open University. He has a PhD in Music Composition from the University of Nottingham. As a composer he has written music for professional and amateur ensembles around the country. He has also composed for award winning ‘transmedia’ theatre. His research currently concerns the intersections of musical modernism, medievalism (which is to say the modern medieval imaginary), and popular culture: in the concert hall, on stage, and on screen.