Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pop Noises

Hey, don't blame me, that's how they titled this article on sound-samples in pop music. This lengthy collection of examples demonstrates a number of interesting things about pop music: many of them unfortunate. One is the inability to categorize: instruments, electronic effects and playing techniques are all mashed together indiscriminately. On the other hand, sometimes the list offers some insights into the history of pop music. #26 Sequenced Bass, for example, identifies the origin of the annoying rigidity of pop music--what I usually, and ignorantly, call "drum machines". #25 Sax Solo, however just notices that some pop music has a solo for saxophone.  #36 Sample Stutters unfortunately reminds me of some of Steve Reich's use of recorded voices--even in his recent work WTC 9/11. Alas! Nonetheless, the article is fascinating reading and listening because of the insights into pop music. Possibly into the decline of pop music if you look at things as I do!

What comes across is that the commercial pressures--or laziness!--felt by musicians often drives them to look for a unique and different sound. So we get over-emphasized Auto-Tune, or Leslie, or wah-wah, or staccato, or hand-clap or vocoder--anything! If it takes off, for a while lots of people do it, until everyone is truly sick of it. Then on to the next thing. I wonder if it was the continual technological experimentation of the Beatles that got all this going? I'm hoping not. I think the difference is that the Beatles were trying to realize a musical vision and experimenting with different ways of getting that across. The big orchestral glissando in "A Day in the Life" for example, which this article includes under # 11 Freakouts, has a definite musical purpose (for one thing, far from being a 'freakout', it is a precisely-measured 24-bar section). But most of the things listed in the article have no real musical function, but only add a particular color to an arrangement. No wonder they come and go.

I would love to see someone assemble a similar list of dumb effects in music videos.

Here is the example used for sequenced bass:

And if you didn't feel a bit queasy already, here is a curiosity I ran across: Donna Summer performing this same song in Belgium in 2005 and eviscerating a little Beethoven in the process.

CORRECTION: Don't know what came over me! It's not Beethoven that is being eviscerated in the Donna Summer concert; it is rather the Schubert "Unfinished" Symphony, in B minor. Silly me...

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