Music as torture

There is an incredible amount of irony to the fact that music, something created by artists in order to invoke enjoyment in others, could be used to torture. It reminds me a lot of a famous Monty Python sketch where someone writes a joke that is so funny that anyone who reads it laughs so much that they actually die. The british army realizes the deadly potential of this joke and figures out how to use it as a weapon. They have it translated into German so that British soldiers can say the joke in German and not understand it but the German soldiers hearing it would die. One would never think that one would use comedy as a weapon just like nobody would usually think of music as a weapon. It also reminds me of another Monty Python sketch where someone is being tortured during interrogation by being forced to sit in a comfy chair. That’s what it seems like being tortured with music would be like. Although of course in reality it’s done more specifically through hours of repetition of typically unpleasant sounding music it’s not really like that, rather it sounds like it’s quite atrocious.

Here are the 2 Monty Python sketches:

Joke Warfare:

Comfy chair torture:



Silent Hill – Monstrous Noise

The soundtrack to a horror film can make-or-brake the film. Ominous, frantic, and unsettling music is a powerful  tool for instilling frightening feelings in the viewer. Horror films tend to get very creative with how they use sound design to play games with the audience’s minds. Often before something frightening happens in a horror movie the score becomes extra frantic, or it will become incredibly quite, which causes viewers to be on edge, expecting an upcoming sudden loud noise to break the silence. However, horror films will often use dead silence or intense frightening music at times when nothing even happens in order to fake out the audience and keep them guessing about when something frightening might happen. In addition, horror films will often feature all kinds of strange sounds that are meant to keep the viewer confused about what is happening in the surrounding within the film.

Will Cheng makes a good point about how when a person is watching a horror movie, he or she can simply try and tune out what they are seeing and hearing right before they think something is going to happen, the viewer has no way of effecting the outcome of the film so tuning out during the most frightening parts is no problem. However, in a video game the player needs to be alert and pay extra close attention to the sounds in the game in order to be to ready to respond to an oncoming attack. This is what makes the eerie soundtrack of Silent Hill, which borrows a lot from the conventions of horror movie soundtracks, even more effective than when it is used in horror films.

After reading Cheng’s description of the game, I kind of have desire to find a copy of Silent Hill, dust off my old Playstation 2 and try it out for myself.



NY Magazine – The Town That Put the Pop in Music: A Look Back at 100 Years of New York Sounds

I found this interesting article today from NY Magazine that offers a brief history of popular music in New York. It includes a lot of different music subcultures that have had a presence in the city over the years. At the end of the article thee is a link to an “Encyclopedia of New York Pop Music” which brings you to a slideshow that basically gives you photos and either a short description, anecdote that happened in New York, or quote from or about different music artists who have been important to the New York music scene like The Gershwins, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, The Velvet Underground, The Talking Heads, The Beastie Boys and a whole bunch more. 

Anyways I feel like its extremely relevant to the subject of our class and I think some you guys might enjoy it!


Project Pitch: The jam band subculture

The jam band subculture originated with The Grateful Dead in in the 1960’s and 70’s. The Dead was a rock band heavily influenced by blues and folk music who didn’t just play there songs, but rather would expand them on stage and improvise off of them similar to what you might expect in jazz, but the Grateful Dead were doing it in a rock n’ roll setting. The dead was popular amongst the hippies and developed a dedicated following of fans who would travel great distances to see them as often as they could.

Today there are many bands associated with what has become known as the “jam band scene.” Most of these newer jam bands are rock bands at their core, but bring in many outside influences from other musical styles like jazz, funk, disco, electronica, reggae, and bluegrass. But the main thing these bands have in common is that like the Grateful Dead, these bands tour extensively, improvise off of their songs, change up their set lists every night, and draw a following of dedicated hippie fans. The most prominent of current jam band on the scene is Phish, who’s fans come out to see the band again and again.

The jam band culture is a culture deep rooted in traditions set forth by the Grateful Dead. For my project I would like to analyze how The Grateful Dead influenced the modern jam band scene that is primarily built around Phish. I want to compare how the scene today is similar to the scene surrounding the Grateful Dead and also how it is different; how it evolved since the Grateful Dead.

In Defense of Disco

Richard Dyer argues that one of the reasons why disco music was so looked down by rock and folk fans was because it was seen as highly commercialized music that represents capitalism. If I was growing up in the 70’s I probably would have had this opinion of disco music, I often find that the corporitization of music often leads to very bland and low quality music. That’s how I feel about most of the pop music that’s being mass marketed today. However, I find that the quality of mainstream pop music has gotten worse since the 70’s and although there were a lot of horrendous disco hits in the 70’s, some of them were actually pretty good.

My favorite is Get Down Tonight by KC & The Sunshine Band which never fails to put me in the mood for a party.

Had I been around in the 70’s, I don’t think I would have been open to disco as much because I would have seen the genre overall as a threat to the rock music that I love. However, in my current position in 2014 I think I’m able to have a more open mind to it and find the few hidden gems within the genre. Also despite my distaste for most modern pop music, I found Daft Punk’s recent disco-influenced hit Get Lucky to be pretty solid.


Cover Song Analyses – We Can Work It Out

On August 7, 1970, Stevie Wonder released an album titled Signed, Sealed & Delivered on Tamla records, and this album featured his own cover version of The Beatles’ December 3, 1965 chart-topping Parlophone(UK)/Capitol(US) single We Can Work It Out. Stevie performed the song in his own style, transforming it from folk-rock into a funky R&B tune. While the lyrics are the same in Stevie’s version and the melody is pretty much also the same, the feel of Stevie’s adaptation is completely different. Instead of being a laid-back acoustic guitar driven folksy song, Stevie’s version is upbeat, full of shouting backing vocals, and is more of a danceable R&B tune. Stevie’s reason for covering the song was not to hijack the hit, as Michael Coyle argues was the reason for a lot of cover version of pop hits, but rather to pay homage to The Beatles while at the same time offering his own funky interpretation of the song. By the time Stevie released his version, The Beatles’ We Can Work It Out had already been released for five years and was by now a well established mega-hit for The Beatles. Stevie aimed to take this hit that everyone was already familiar with and demonstrate how well it could be spun from folk-rock into his own unique brand of R&B.

The Beatles – We Can Work It Out (1965)

Stevie Wonder – We Can Work It Out (1970)

The original Beatles version of We Can Work It Out is driven primarily by tambourine, acoustic guitar, and vocals. Harmonium, an instrument that sounds kind of like a cross between an organ and an accordion, also played in important role in the songs sound. The drums and bass are further back in the mix compared to the other instruments. The role of the rhythm section that drums and bass usually play is primarily left to the tambourine and acoustic guitar. The prominence of the acoustic guitar and tambourine make the song feel very folksy. But the waling of the harmonium, despite being further back in the mix actually makes the biggest difference in giving the song its feel. It gives the song a kind of melancholy feel. The harmonium compliments the feeling Paul puts into the lead vocals, a feeling of longing for something, like he’s longing to work this situation out with his girl. In addition, John’s vocal harmony in the chorus interacts beautifully with Paul’s very moving and expressive lead vocal.

Stevie Wonder may have technically been performing the same song, but the feel, mood and style he adds to it is entirely different. It is already apparent that this version is going to be quite distinctive from the original when it the first few seconds of the song opens up with some signature Stevie Wonder style funky clavinet playing. Then at the end of the 3rd bar, the rest of the band enters, beginning with a strong drum accent together with Stevie shouting a powerful “hey!” Already from this point it has been established that unlike the Beatles mellow folksy version, this version is going to be upbeat, cheerful and groovy. This version of the song is driven heavily by the drums, bass guitar, clavinet, and by powerful R&B style vocals. Stevie’s cover also features backing vocals, but rather than tight harmonies, the backing vocals consist more of high-energy shouting that is more typically found in R&B than folk. Stevie’s version doesn’t alternate between 4/4 and 3/4 time like the original version does but rather stays in a driving 4/4 groove the whole way through, making it more danceable. Stevie even adds an entire harmonica solo section to the song where he showcases his signature harmonica playing style. Overall, Stevie’s We Can Work It Out is very different from the original despite the fact that the melody and lyrics generally remains the same.

Stevie Wonder recently appeared on a CBS special honoring the 50th anniversary of the Beatles famous first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, and at this event, Stevie performed his rendition of We Can Work It Out. Before starting the song, Stevie offered an explanation for why he chose to cover the song.

I wanted to share a video of this performance but it got removed from YouTube for copyright infringement. But I did manage to transcribe what he said before it got taken down:

“I was 13 when I heard them sing for the first time, and I remember clearly this song that I’m about to do, I heard it when I was 15 years old, and it had a nice thing to it but I said someday I’m going to do it again with a little funky thing with it.”

The fact that Stevie can clearly remember when he first heard The Beatles clearly demonstrates how much of an impact The Beatles have had on him. He is offering homage to The Beatles by covering their song but at the same time he wanted to make it his own by making it into more of a funky R&B tune that is more typical of Stevie’s style. He especially makes the song his by adding his own harmonica solo to the song. Stevie was not in any way looking to steal market share from the original song while it was charting, the song had already had its run on the charts and had been released for five years when Stevie released his cover. Rather, Stevie was offering a fresh take on a familiar hit that people could enjoy the novelty of and appreciate the way in which Stevie was able shift the song so masterfully from folk rock into R&B.

Our Singing Country

Looking back at the journey that the Lomaxes journey across America in order to collect folk music shows how far we have come as far as making all kinds of music easily available for anyone to access. While John and Alan Lomax had to travel the country in order to explore folk music, anyone today can easily open up Spotify or YouTube and instantly have access to millions of songs from all over the world. Yet somethings about music haven’t changed at all and one such thing is the way record executives often try and manipulate artists to shape an image for them. The Lomaxes fabricated a lot about Lead Belly from adjustments in what songs they wanted him to sing and how they wanted him to sing it to even crafting a false image of him as a dangerous criminal. This extends to through to today where it is entirely common for a pop stars entire image to be carefully crafted by record company executives. For example, a certain former Disney star who’s name I really don’t want to mentioned but it rhymes with Ciley Myrus was completely under the control of Disney while she was producing content for them.

I saw parts of a film in another one of my media classes about a folk singer who is discovered by 2 radio station executives in a prison. He is recruited to host a radio show and as time goes on becomes more and more of a star. But as he rose in popularity, he lost his “fight the man” attitude and his rough edge to his musical style. He even eventually even began appearing in commercials for big brands. This plot seems to be very much based on the story of Lead Belly and the Lomaxes. I don’t recall what the film was called and I don’t remember who’s class I saw it in but if anyone has heard of it I’d be interested in finding out.