Shockwave-Sound Blog and Articles

Music on the Move: A Short history of Mobile Listening

Long before technology provided us with a pocket sized phone where we can store thousands of our favourite tunes, listening to music on the go was often an unreliable and expensive pastime. In this article we outline a condensed history of the long & arduous journey of Man’s mission to unshackle popular music, setting you free to enjoy your latest playlist at the gym. Dance on the beach under the stars. Or irritate your fellow travellers wherever you roam!

The Early Years

Music on the move is by no means a 20th Century invention. In days of old, serfs and jesters were employed by Royal Decree to entertain Kings and Queens on their travels and engagements by playing the popular tunes of the day on a variety of early instruments such as the Lute, the recorder and the Lyre. However, not so for the common man whose exposure to music was a less personal experience and remained routed in street parties, gatherings or theatre performances.
And with no way to record music, this is how it remained for hundreds of years.

1877 – Along comes the Phonograph

Although it was an amazing innovation at the time, even the invention of the phonograph in the late 19th Century didn’t free recorded music from being a stagnant experience. As many phonographs were unwieldy with a huge horn and weighing up to 300 pounds they were intended purely as home entertainment. Again it was the rich and privileged that were able to employ help to move the system between locations. And with the high cost of the players, recorded music ‘on the move’ remained extremely limited and still largely a pastime of the elite.

On the Road

In 1904, an American inventor, Lee de Forest, demonstrates the first car radio at an Exposition event in St. Louis. It was too early for it to be entirely successful and it wasn’t until 1920 that the valve and transformer technology had progressed to the point where an in-car radio could become a viable everyday accessory.
In 1924, Kelly’s Motors of New South Wales, Australia made history by installing its first car radio.
But it would be another six years before Motorola (yes, the mobile phone pioneers) produced a radio receiver that was marketed in America by GMC. At $130 (approximately a fifth the price of a car), it was still ludicrously expensive and not many of these early models were installed.
In fact it wasn’t until just before WWII in the late 1930’s that push button AM radios were considered a standard feature in a new car. By the end of the war there were an estimated 9 million AM car radios in use. It’s the mid 1940’s and music was on the move!

The 1950’s Revolution

It’s the early 1950’s and portable music takes a giant Quantum leap with the invention of the tiny semiconductor known to one and all as the Transistor. No longer shackled to heavy cumbersome valves, along came tiny radio receivers called transistor radios. The sound was tinny and scratchy and they were prone to picking up static. BUT NOBODY CARED! It was the 50’s. At last, you could listen to your favourite radio station wherever and whenever you liked. It was cool. It was rebellious. It was a revolution.
Of course, the transistor radio had been coming since the late 1940’s. But only ever as prototypes or demonstration models by Sony, RCA and Intermetall of Germany. The first commercially available one was released by Texas Instruments and IDEA of Indianapolis in October 1954.
It was called the Regency TR-1. After a year they had sold 100,000 units, but the reviews of its performance generally focused on the tinny sound of the small speaker.

Cassette for a change

Throughout the 50’s and 60’s, transistor radios became better designed and more accessible, with later models being affordable by the average household.  But then in the late 1960’s along came the portable cassette player/recorder and for music on the move, things were set to change.
The cassette player was battery operated, had a reasonably sized speaker and could be listened to in comfort over separate headphones. Unsurprisingly they became very popular, very quickly.
Unlike the portable but bulky 8-track, the cassette player with its user friendly C30/C60/C90 minute cassette format, was the perfect complement to home taping systems like the music centre. At last, you could record your favourite records and radio shows and play them back in the garden, the park or at the beach. By the 1970’s, it was every school kid’s dream come true.

Walk the Walk (man)

So, by now we have the car stereo, we have the transistor radio and we have the 8 track and portable cassette player. Teenagers and parents alike were all using affordable portable music devices wherever and whenever they wanted. But in a few short years, things were about to get much, much better.
Enter Andreas Pavel . A German-Brazilian inventor and former television executive, who devised the Stereobelt in order to, as he put it, ‘add a soundtrack to real life’. The Stereobelt offered high fidelity music through headphones while its wearer was participating in daily activities.
Pavel took his invention around to many of the high end audio companies of the time, most of whom rejected it, mainly on the grounds that people wouldn’t want to wear headphones in public (!)

One of those companies was Sony, who in 1979 came up with the revolutionary Sony Walkman. A miniature cassette player designed to clip onto a belt and listened to on accompanying headphones. (Andreas Pavel, by the way, entered a legal battle with Sony that would last for decades until he was able to claim some of the rights to the German sales of the Walkman, which he claimed was based on his original design).
The Walkman prototype was actually based on a modified Sony Pressman. A compact tape recorder designed for journalists and released 2 years earlier in 1977.
The Sony Walkman was an instant hit and coincided with the trends of jogging and aerobic exercise.  Activities that were so much more fun when you were listening to Queen or Abba. Madonna or Bowie. Plus, the Walkman’s 2 AA batteries and headphones added lightweight convenience and privacy to the experience of listening to personal music.
Also arriving on the scene in the mid 1980’s, by way of New York’s burgeoning Hip Hop scene, was the Boombox or Ghetto Blaster. The bigger the better, these hybrid portable music centres focused on volume and clarity of sound, often including tape to tape features and other gimmicks.
So with the Sony Walkman and the Ghetto Blasting Boombox, by the mid 80’s, everyone could afford to take part in this latest accessorised pastime. Listening to music while on the move.

All change for the new format

But wait! Aren’t those old cassettes sounding a little hissy these days? A bit muddy? A little woolly?
Isn’t it time for a cleaner, brighter sound?
Compact Discs had been around since the early 1980’s, but became popular and commercially available after the introduction of Sony’s one and only Discman. A portable CD player with extra outputs that you could plug straight into your home system. Perfect for every get-up-and-go Hi-Fi enthusiast. Despite the heavy price tag of early models (hipsters could pay up to $350 in 1984) The Discman once again sparked a revolution in portable music by improving the sound quality of the mobile experience.
Sure, there were other makes of portable cassette players and CD players. But Sony managed to corner the market with early innovation and mass production, which meant that their competitors were constantly wrong footed, finding it hard to catch up with the brand leader. This was Sony’s time to shine and the huge Japanese conglomerate made the most of it with their new slogan, ‘It’s A Sony’.

The Nineties hiatus

And that’s the way it stayed.  At least for a few years. Yes, there were other innovations. The Digital Age meant that information could be recorded in good ol’ noughts and ones and we were treated to Minidisc, another Sony invention that had great success in Japan and moderate success in Europe. Digital Audio Tape (DAT), introduced in the late 80’s became a popular format in the music industry and many portable versions were used for field recordings or broadcast quality vox pops (street interviews). Less so for portable recreational music, these two formats were considered pro or semi-pro, though Minidisc picked up a hardcore following of enthusiasts who saw it as the natural successor to the CD.
By the mid 1990’s there was a feeling that something was in the air. But nobody, except the forward thinking futurists and computer geeks, seemed to know what form it would take. Surprisingly, what happened owed a big debt to the past as we were about to find out.

MP Free

The MPEG3 (Moving Pictures Experts Group layer 3) was an audio format first adopted by movie makers in the 1980’s and using a theory that had been around for donkey’s years. The theory being that the human ear is unable to pick up a number of masked frequencies. So why not strip those frequencies away, thus making the resulting file many times smaller and easier to handle.
This lighter, more accessible format was perfect for use in the fledgling computer/internet market as full bandwidth WAV files took forever to transfer on dial up modems. So, despite the loss of quality, the MP3 was adopted as standard and by the late 90’s, music websites and blogs (Napster, anyone?) began to appear hosting music tracks ripped directly from CD and converted into the MPEG format.
It followed that eventually the public would need portable players to listen to these files away from their computer towers. And so, the MP3 Player was born.
The first mass-produced MP3 player with flash memory included was called the MPMan, developed and manufactured by SaeHan Information Systems. The MPMan was launched in 1998, but was expensive and complicated to use, so it never really took off.
It was followed a few short months later by the Rio PMP300. This was cheaper and had better connectivity. Able to plug directly into a computer it was an instant success.
However, that success was short lived as in 2001 Apple Inc were to release the first ever iPod on an unsuspecting public.

Changing the game

The Apple iPod was an instant game changer in the portable music market. The user could now upload thousands of songs (from Apple’s hugely popular iTunes platform) onto a single device. And, unlike a Discman or the many other portable devices, you could choose specific tracks from albums, building your own playlists to listen to while travelling, or at work, or at the gym, or to play at a party. Suddenly, everyone was a DJ. A music curator. In charge of their listening destiny. More than ever before. This was truly a revolution of huge magnitude.
Other personal music file players were available of course, but Apple ruled the roost and sold millions of players from 2001 onwards, upgrading and updating with version after version as the technology improved.
In 2004, three years after the initial release, the iPod dominated digital music player sales in the USA with over 90% of the market of hard drive based players and 70% of the market of all types of players.
In January 2007, Apple reported quarterly revenue of $7.1 billion of which 48% was made up of iPod sales. That’s a whole lot of people listening to a whole lot of music. And iPods dominated the market for more than a decade. But as this article has proved. In the world of mobile music, nothing stands still forever. A huge shift was on the horizon. And coming up fast.

Get Smart

Smart Phones had been lurking around for quite some time. Early prototypes with obscure operating systems had been introduced way back in the 1990s. But a mobile phone that could stream, download and play music? Early on in the millennium that was still pretty much a pipe dream. However, Samsung were the first to innovate with the Samsung SPH-M100 (UpRoar) launched in 2000 and considered to be the first mobile phone to have MP3 music capabilities in the US Market.

The data speeds of competing models would find the large files difficult to manage. Phones in this period concentrated more on their camera technology and other features.
However, Motorola (remember them from the early car radio days?) introduced a flagship Rokr model in 2005 incorporating support of media player features. And it wasn’t long before data speeds improved and new technology and faster connectivity (3G was introduced commercially around 2002/2003) allowed the pipe dream to become a reality. Perhaps now, music’s migration from MP3 player to Smart Phone could begin in earnest.

The final chapter?

Apple once again dominated the market with the release of the iPhone on June 29th, 2007.
Here was a device geared up to multi task and offer accessibility to an Aladdin’s Cave of music from the iTunes store. It had the ability to do so much more than all other portable music devices combined. It was the World leader and turned Apple into one of the World’s most valuable publicly traded companies. As of November 1st 2018, a total of more than 2.2 billion iPhones had been sold, giving a great chunk of the World’s population access to the ultimate portable mobile music playing device.

The future beckons

So here we are. Android and iOS phones offer the perfect solution to listening to portable music. Creating playlists. Streaming. Downloading (and uploading) tracks. What more could we possibly want from a portable music player?
Well, let’s not forget that, despite the rise of music friendly phones, the portable audio player still exists. For instance, check out the Hifiman HM-60X series, The Tera-Player and Sony’s PHA-2. The huge advantage these bad boys have is sound quality. Your average audiophile will chat for hours about the poor quality of lossy audio formats like the MP3. And when you listen to a lossless format at a hugely higher bandwidth, the difference in quality becomes clear.
So perhaps the future lies in a device with all the convenience of a mobile Smartphone, but able to reproduce a faultless studio quality listening experience through full bandwidth wireless earbuds.
Or do we just implant a microchip at birth and beam it all down from the Moon?
Perhaps they’re working on that right now. Let’s hope so!

Simon Power is a sound designer & composer for BBC’s Doctor Who audio dramas. He is signed to Banco De Gaia’s Disco Gecko record label and as Dream Valley Music, composes for films, TV and games.

Temp Tracks: A Movie’s Secret Score

Selecting ‘temp music’ tracks is an essential part of the overall scoring process in film making. Yet its importance is often overlooked.
In this article, I explain exactly what temp music is and the role it plays in everything from a low budget short films to a major Hollywood feature.

A Temporary Definition

First of all, let’s look at the definition of the term ‘temp music’. A temp track is temporary music (sometimes referred to as ‘scratch music’) chosen by a movie’s music editor (or indeed, the director themselves) for key scenes in a feature film. This temporary music is intended as a guide on early previews of the film to suggest the mood or essence of a particular scene. As music has the power to alter emotional responses to the narrative, it’s important that this temporary music precisely depicts the director’s vision and intentions for the scene. And is music that is able to be reinterpreted at a later stage by the composer and turned into an actual score for the film.

Stock Music & Pop Music

Many directors may already have chosen some temporary music at an early stage. Even in pre-production. However, more often than not, the music editor will turn to a vast and varied collection of Library Music (Production Music/Stock Music) to compose a temporary score for the film.
After all, with the right experience and knowledge, the editor can quickly bring to mind the perfect track for the scene chosen from a vast array of ready-made stock music mood tracks. That’s why Library Music is often used as the quick and effective solution for temp tracks for this in-depth and often time-consuming task of supplying a temporary score.

Other solutions may include published music or film music from other movies. Especially in sequels, where the temp music will often be ripped from the previous release. As in the case of Lethal Weapon 4 where the temp score was taken from Lethal Weapon 1, 2 and 3!

Hollywood Wish List

So, for temporary music, the music editor and director have a wide range of music to choose from.

Using vast amounts of Library Music, hit songs and other movie soundtracks. After all, it’s never going to be heard outside the studio walls, so they can really allow their imagination to run amok and make some ‘wish list’ choices. In fact, There have been occasions where this wish list has become a reality.

Quentin Tarantino chose the track ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ to accompany the notorious ‘ear slicing’ scene in his early feature, Reservoir Dogs. It only became clear at a later stage that a publishing deal for the song may not be granted. Until Tarantino, himself stepped in and hired another music supervisor who could guarantee the Stealer’s Wheel track for his film.

When editing Apocalypse Now, director Francis Ford Coppola scored the entire film with ‘temporary’ tracks by the rock group The Doors. All that remained of this temporary score by the time the movie was released was The Doors’ track ‘The End’. Used to chilling effect alongside the Napalm attack on the jungle outpost at the beginning of the film.

Stanley Kubrick was inspired by classical music by Richard Strauss and Gyorgy Ligeti to bring alive his vision of Man’s evolution in 2001: A Space Odyssey. So moved by the results, that this temporary music became the score in the final cut of the film.

Low Budget Independents

Of course, not everyone is producing a Hollywood style blockbuster movie. Most productions are small independent films where the director will communicate their ideas for the score directly with a composer. The ‘temp score’ may indeed be a rough demo produced by the composer. Something that includes his ideas, but with pared-down instrumentation. On approval, the composer will set to work bringing the score to life. Perhaps replacing sampled or synthesized sounds with real instruments and orchestration.

Imitation & Limitation

So those are most of the ways that temporary music finds its way into early pre-production versions of a movie. However, it can be an area of contention and not always just a cut and dried process. In fact, temp music can be very subjective indeed.

I was once working on a score for a film when the director presented me with a piece of temp music for a particular scene. It was taken from the soundtrack of one of the Star Trek movies. A few days later I sent him the cue that I had produced. I sensed he wasn’t entirely happy and asked him if my cue was what he wanted. “Yes,” he replied, “it’s exactly what I wanted and that’s the problem!”

Without realizing, I had mimicked the Star Trek music to such a degree that they sounded almost identical. This is a very common pitfall with temp music and from a composers viewpoint, it’s a two-stage process. Get the music sounding similar, but then step back and add your own essence to the piece. It’s surprising what new directions may be revealed. A few days later I sent the director a second draft and he was entirely happy with the finished piece. And so was I. It had taught me a valuable lesson about how to reinterpret temp music into new compositions and surprise the director with an extra layer of ingenuity.

Temp music can also prove to be extremely limiting on the composer’s ability to use their imagination. Another time I was sent an edited version of a short film. While watching the film I had many ideas for the type of music I would like to compose. A week later, the director sent me some temporary music he had chosen from his personal record library. This music was nothing like I had imagined. In fact, almost the polar opposite! In those situations, the composer must come forward to see if a compromise can be reached. Perhaps the director will eventually appreciate and enjoy the new freedom that a second person’s input can offer. We eventually agreed to make some changes and the results were better than we both imagined they would be at the time!

Marvelous Music?

A point here could be made about current big budget movie scores such as the Marvel franchise. Clearly, the scores in these movies are designed to be nothing more than audio wallpaper these days. The music rises and falls along with the action, but never breaks out as a stand-alone feature unless a piece of published music or a hit song is somehow crow barred into the soundtrack.

But this hasn’t always been the case with Marvel.

Remember Danny Elfman’s music for Spiderman back in 2001? Well, this just may be the problem. If that terrific score has been used as temp music ever since, what we are now faced with is a decades old imitation of the perfect super hero music. There is only one Danny Elfman. And endless photocopies of photocopies just won’t ever produce another brilliant composer. Please, Marvel. It’s your duty to try something new? I’m pretty sure that you have the available budget by now!

Back To The Studio

Meanwhile, back in the studio and with all these available sources of temp music neatly edited into a score, the film is ready for early screenings to studio executives or test audiences. And, of course, as inspiration for the actual score, to be produced at a later time by the chosen composer.

As an example, the temporary music for the original Star Wars test showings was The Planets by Gustav Holst. Easy to judge how this resulted in the eventual rousing classical score by composer, John Williams. As too, music by Irish singer Enya was used as temporary music for key scenes in Titanic. Which then inspired James Horner’s soaring Celtic tones in the film’s final cut.

Temporary Music Credit?

Just a note here on temp music that may be a subject for discussion. A film score composer is being asked to imitate (dare I say, plagiarize?) a piece of music that the director and/or music editor has decided fits perfectly with the emotional arc of the scene. Yet that temporary piece of music is then discarded and never credited when an imitation has been made. Does that seem a little unfair to the composer & producer of the original temporary track?

This is perhaps where a general usage/single payment license seems to be the perfect solution. This way the composer/producer and publisher of the temporary track will receive a payment for their temporary placement in a film. That’s mutually beneficial and seems only fair. Even if no credit is given in the actual film itself.

A Final Imitation

So finally with the score completed, the movie is yet another stage closer to its final release date. The temp music has done its job as the secret ‘invisible’ score. A temporary music bed that has allowed the director, music editor, music supervisors and composer to work towards a common goal. Communicating their ideas through music in order to get the best score and soundtrack the film could possibly have.

Simon Power
As Dream Valley Music, Simon Power has scored a number of short films with his music being placed in feature films such as Chamber’s Gate, Pickings and Ouija 3.

10 Music Documentaries to Binge-Watch on a Free Weekend

10 Music Documentaries to Binge-Watch on a Free Weekend

Many films have been made about music and the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of those who produce it. Here we list, in no particular order, some of the best and most successful music documentaries to hit the screen, both big and small, over the last five decades. So pick a weekend, get some snacks and beer, lie on the couch and start streaming!

Please use the comments box to add to the list and tell us about your own personal favourites.

It Might Get Loud (2008)

White Stripes’ Jack White meets U2’s The Edge meets Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page in this American documentary by Davis Guggenheim.Sitting around in comfy chairs, these three exulted Guitar Gods chat about their techniques, influences and humble beginnings with interviews, live appearances and found footage from their early careers up to the present day.

At one point, each guitarist teaches the other two how to play one of their band’s tunes. I Will Follow (U2), Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground (White Stripes), and In My Time of Dying (Led Zep) being the three chosen tracks.

The film boasts some classic moments for hardcore axe fiends. Jack White making a guitar in real time from a piece of wood, some wire and a broken bottle. Jimmy Page gurning away with a huge grin while listening to Link Wray’s Rumble. And The Edge plugging in his favourite axe as he warns the camera crew, “it might get loud.”
In the US, The film received a wide release by Sony Picture Classics on August 14, 2009.

Amy (2015)

Featuring lots of found footage alongside interviews and concert film, Amy is the tale of a private, often shy girl with a huge talent and addictive nature that ultimately led to her demise. The film depicts Winehouse’s struggle with substance abuse and the effect of its profound grip on her decisions. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are a lot of scenes dedicated to the celebration of her career and music including a number of previously unheard tracks and unseen performances.

To date the film has received 33 nominations and has won a total of 30 film awards, including for Best European Documentary at the 28th European Film Awards. Best Documentary at the 69th British Academy Film Awards, Best Music Film at the 58th Grammy Awards, the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 88th Academy Awards and for Best Documentary at the 2016 MTV Movie Awards. The success of the film and the music from soundtrack also led Winehouse her second posthumous nomination at the 2016 BRIT Awards for “British Female Solo Artist”.

The Wrecking Crew (2008)

The Monkees, The Beach Boys, Phil Spectre’s Wall of Sound. This film is where you learn (if you weren’t already aware) that most of your favourite tunes of the 1960’s were not played by the credited musicians. In fact most of these famous songs were performed in the studio by a group of expert session musicians who became known as The Wrecking Crew.

Your jaw will drop as one after another, the surviving members list off their sessions. Good Vibrations, Wichita Lineman, California Dreaming, Mr. Tambourine Man, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water to name but a few.

And why? Because The Wrecking Crew’s ranks include a variety of guitarists, drummers, pianists and orchestral players whose combined musicianship is beyond compare. So why spend all afternoon trying to get a take from a young, fledgling guitarist or a drummer who can’t play in time? Draft in expert session players like The Wrecking Crew and get your song finished in one take!

 

Sound City (2013)

Produced and directed by Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighter’s frontman Dave Grohl, this film documents the story of Sound City, a recording studio tucked away in the San Fernando Valley amidst rows of dilapidated warehouses and disused buildings.

The little-known recording studio housed an analogue 28 channel 8028 Neve mixing console and had a reputation for drums, giving the studio recordings a particularly punchy sound. Artists such as Nirvana, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Rage Against The Machine and Slipknot all recorded ground breaking music at the studio. The film tells the story of Sound City from its very early days in the late sixties to its closure in 2011.

Buena Vista Social Club (1999)

A beautifully warm film by Wim Wenders documenting Ry Cooder’s ambitious undertaking to reunite a group of legendary Cuban musicians to record an album and perform three concerts. Two in Amsterdam and one in New York. The film includes interviews with each of the main performers. About their early lives in Cuba, their careers in music and the relative obscurity that followed.
There are also some wonderful scenes of the musicians (many in their 70’s and 80’s at the time of recording) traveling abroad, some for the very first time.

The film spawned a hit album of the same name which includes songs by the likes of Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez, Eliades Ochoa, Compay Segundo and Omara Portuondo.

 

Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972)

It doesn’t get much more proggy than Floyd’s 1972 film which centres around footage of them performing in an ancient Roman Amphitheatre in Pompeii, Italy. Filmed over four days, the Floyd are playing a typical live set, but there is no audience, somehow giving the film an other worldly feel, intensified by their hot and sweaty semi naked daytime performances. For gearheads it’s a great opportunity to ogle at their stacks of amps and speakers, miles of cables and classic guitars, drums and organs all being thrashed by the band to powerful effect.

Filming was dogged by technical issues. The power supply in the amphitheatre was insufficient to run the masses of equipment. So in the end a lengthy cable was fed from the local town hall to supply electricity.

With the power supply restored, the Floyd play versions of Echoes, A Saucerful of Secrets and One Of These Days mixed with interviews, rehearsals and, in later versions of the film, studio footage from the Abbey Road sessions for Dark Side Of The Moon.

 

Classic Albums (various)

We cannot list music documentaries without a mention for the greatest music documentary series of them all, Classic Albums. The TV series made by Isis Productions and distributed by Eagle Rock Entertainment.

The format of the show is as follows. The music, and its production, is dissected by the musicians and/or producer, playing the multitrack recordings and singling out the separate recording tracks on the mixing desk. Then the individual musicians play back pieces, which are blended with the original recording. Almost all songs on the albums are meticulously examined, focusing almost entirely on the music itself, its inspiration, composition and realisation.

Each programme highlights the emotional process involved in making music. The highs, the lows, the addictions, the obsessions. Everything is laid bare and examined in minute detail. A truly great series for all musicians interested in the process behind making music.

Classic Albums include recordings by Elton John, Steely Dan, Motorhead, The Sex Pistols, Pink Floyd, The Who, Lou Reed, Iron Maiden, Nirvana, Stevie Wonder, Fleetwood Mac and many more.

Cracked Actor (1974)

This 53 minute BBC documentary film depicts a post-Ziggy Bowie, emancipated and becoming addled by drug use, but remaining in control, hugely charismatic and beautifully fragile as he tours 70’s America. Languishing on the back seat of a huge limo, being hustled in and out of hotel rooms, appearing on countless TV and radio shows as the US tries to come to terms with this strange pale alien and his alluring, captivating musical paeans to the American psyche.

Drinking from a milk carton in the back of a Limo as they speed through the desert, The Thin White Duke is asked how he’s picked up on so many of the themes and culture of America during his stay. Bowie replies, “there’s a fly in my milk, a foreign body. And he’s getting a lot of milk. That’s kind of how I feel.”

The film includes concert footage from the ambitiously staged Diamond Dogs tour mainly filmed at the Los Angeles Universal Amphitheatre on September 2nd 1974.

Although not widely available (it still remains officially unreleased), this film is worth tracking down for all Station to Station/Young Americans period Bowie fans.

Searching For Sugar Man (2012)

This is the incredible story of Sixto Rodriguez, a little known singer/songwriter who had gained almost mythical status in South Africa despite remaining entirely unknown in his native USA.
The film details the efforts of two Cape Town fans in the late 1990s, Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, who set out to discover whether the rumours of his suicide were true, or if not, what had become of the singer.

The film takes many fascinating twists and turns as the super-fans uncover more and more surprising details about the singer’s life.

What’s not surprising is that the film won both a BAFTA and an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature of 2013.

Tragically the writer, Malik Bendjelloul committed suicide in 2014.

Some Kind of Monster (2004)

All is not well in the Metallica camp. Their long term bassist Jason Newsted has quit the band and frontman James Hetfield is on the verge of a breakdown. His unwieldy ego and dark mood swings are over riding the band’s efforts to record a new album. Enter Phil Towe, a therapist and psychoanalyst drafted in by the management company (at $40,000 a month) in an attempt to reconcile the band’s differences. But things go from bad to worse and Hetfield checks in to a rehab centre to tackle his depression and alcoholism head on, delaying the recording of the album by around 18 months.

Even if you’re not a huge fan of Metallica’s music, this film is highly recommended for its candid insight into the turbulent roller coaster lifestyle of a mega rich rock group. Including a recruitment scene where new Bassist Robert Trujillo is welcomed into the band with a cheque for a million dollars!

And here’s a list of 5 more music documentary films you must binge-watch on your next free weekend…

 

  • Woodstock (1970)
  • Festival Express (2003)
  • Kurt Cobaine: Montage Of Heck (2015)
  • Dig! (2004)
  • Joy Division (2006)
10 Unforgettable Electronic Movie Soundtracks

10 Unforgettable Electronic Movie Soundtracks

Most Hollywood films use orchestral arrangements in their
scores to engage the audience and help express a wide range of emotions. But synthesisers and computer based music can offer an entirely new experience and enhance the
film in many unpredictable ways. So here’s a list of 10 great movies with 10
great electronic music scores to add to your ultimate movie soundtrack
playlist.

 

10. Run Lola Run (1998)

 

Lola’s boyfriend is in big trouble and the only way she can save his life is by
running, sprinting and jogging across Berlin in pursuit of a huge stash of
cash. The accompanying soundtrack drive’s the action forward with a wide range
of acid beats, spikey synths and squelchy basslines. The Techno soundtrack was
composed by the film’s director, Tom Tykwer. With more than a little help from
Johnny Klimek and ’99 Red Balloons’ producer,
Rinehold Heil.

 

9. The Social Network (2010)

 

The story of Mark Zuckerberg’s rocky road to success as head honcho at Facebook
is underscored by music from Atticus Ross and Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Reznor.
The beautifully dark, post industrial electronica earned Reznor and Ross an
Oscar for Best Original Soundtrack of 2010.

 

8. Beverley Hills Cop (1984)

 

Harold Faltermeyer’s indelible synth melody is as 80’s as a Rubik’s Cube,
although far easier to play.
It chattered away behind Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley as he attempts to track down
the killer of his childhood pal, Mikey Tandino. The soundtrack to this comedy
cop thriller opened the gates for a slew of music scores featuring contemporary
80’s instruments like the Yamaha DX7 and Roland Jupiter 8. All driven along by
the robotic rhythms of classic Linn drum machine.

 

7. Forbidden Planet (1956)

 

The score for this science fiction epic was so experimental that MGM prohibited
use of the term ‘music’ in the credits. Instead Bebe and Louis Barron’s ring
modulated warblings were referred to as ‘electronic tonalities’. As neither of
the avant-garde experimentalists were members of the Musician’s Union, this
term avoided any union payments for the studio. But it also meant that this
innovative soundtrack could never be nominated for an Academy Award. However, Forbidden
Planet’s soundtrack is a rare gem and still perhaps the most unique sci-fi score
ever produced.

 

 

6. Chariots of Fire (1981)

 

As Hitchcock once said. “If music and picture are doing the same thing, one of
them is being wasted.”Perhaps that explains the success of Chariots of Fire’s synth heavy electronic
score. The melancholic melody line of the main theme is the polar opposite of
the extreme excursion felt by the athletes on screen. Yet it somehow works
perfectly with the visuals. Helped by the use of slow motion to stretch out the
agony just a little further!

Of course, there were no synthesisers
around in 1924. So it was a bold decision to use electronic pioneer Vangelis as
the film’s composer. But it paid off big time, winning the film an Oscar for
Best Original Score of 1981.

 

5. Midnight Express (1978)

 

Before ‘Shawshank’, before ‘The Green Mile’, even before ‘Caged Heat’, there
was a prison movie to beat all prison movies called ‘Midnight Express’. The
harrowing story of Billy Hayes. An American student who attempted to smuggle
2kg of hashish out of Turkey and ended up spending 5 long years incarcerated in
a Turkish prison-from-Hell.
The film’s director Alan Parker recruited Italian disco
producer Giorgio Moroder to compose something along the lines of his recent
smash hit with Donna Summer, I Feel Love. The result is a dark, incessant
arpeggiated score that coils and slithers its way through the film like an
angry snake. The Chase theme became a disco hit in its own right and earnt
Moroder an Academy Award for Best Original Score of 1979.

 

4. Gone Girl (2014)

 

The music to this psychological thriller was the third collaboration between
director, David Fincher and composers, Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor  (the previous two being ‘The Girl With The
Dragon Tatoo’ and the afore mentioned ‘The Social Network’).Filcher’s vision for the music was to recreate an emotion he had felt after
hearing muzak played at a recent chiropractor session. He described what he
heard as ‘inauthentic’. A soothing, reassuring soundscape that in fact had quite
the opposite effect. Leaving him feeling anxious and ill at ease.
The result was a soundtrack that included washes of beautiful tones and colours
indispersed with spikey incongruous electronic noises and discordant notes. Unsettling
to say the least, and another triumph for the pioneering composing team of Ross
and Reznor.

 

3. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

 

Although not wholly electronic, the score for A Clockwork Orange must get a
mention because of its hugely influential role in the history of movie scores. Recorded
in real time (there were no sequencers back then) on a bank of modular Moog
synthesisers, these haunting renditions of well known classical pieces took on
a maniacal life of their own as they resonated in the disturbed mind of
protagonist Alex DeLarge, head of the Droogs played by Malcolm McDowell.Composer Walter Carlos (who later became Wendy Carlos) came to the attention of
the film’s director Stanley Kubrick after releasing an album of speeded up
electronic chamber music called Switched On Bach in 1968. After contributing to
the Clockwork Orange soundtrack, Carlos went on to record the score for the
Disney film Tron in 1982.

 

2. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

 

There couldn’t be a list of electronic music score composers without mentioning
the master of them all, John Carpenter. His mid 70’s film soundtracks
terraformed the entire film music landscape and were a huge influence, not only
on movie soundtracks, but other genres too, like Synth Pop, the New Romantics
and Post Punk.As a director, he’s quoted as saying that the only reason he composed for his
own films is because he was fast and cheap. But the reality is way beyond that.
His stark synth driven instrumentals locked with the visuals in a unique
tensile alliance. A bond that became so strong that you couldn’t imagine one
without the other.

Christine, The Fog, Escape From New York, Halloween. Any one of these films
could have appeared on the list. But ‘Assault’s insidious five note bassline
has a way of getting inside your psyche. And just like the Street Thunder Gang.
Once it’s broken in, it’s difficult to shift.

 

1. Blade Runner (1982)

 

Ridley Scott’s neo-noir sci-fi epic was by no means as successful on release as
it has become since. It under performed in the US with critics calling it
‘plodding’ and lacking in pace. However, it has since become a cult classic and
is was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry and heralded as
being ‘culturally, historically and aesthetically significant.’ It is now
regarded by critics (probably the same critics that earlier panned it) as being
one of the best science fiction films ever made.A large part of the success of Blade Runner can be attributed to its
soundtrack. A glorious sweeping synthesised wash created and composed by Greek
composer Evangelos Odysseas
Papathanassiou. Better known to fans as Vangelis.

Vangelis began his career as a working musician in a covers band, moving on to
become a member of the prog rock outfit Aphrodite’s Child. As side
projects he began composing film scores, later setting up a studio in London
dedicated to his solo album work and a steady stream of movie soundtracks. This
brought him to the attention of high profile film directors and in particular,
David Puttman and Hugh Hudson who were making a film called Chariots of Fire.
An Academy Award followed and the following year he collaborated with Ridley
Scott on the music for Blade Runner.

The score is noted for capturing the isolation felt by replicant Rick Deckard
(played by Harrison Ford) as he scours the dystopian landscape in search of Roy
Batty (Rutger Hauer). A replicant who has escaped to Earth in an attempt to
extend his life cycle and elude his ultimate fate of being ‘retired’.

After the release of the film, a disagreement led to Vangelis withholding permission
for his performance of the music being released. The studio instead hired a
group of musicians dubbed The New American Orchestra to record the official
album release. It took 12 years before the disagreement was resolved. The
composer’s own work was released in 1994.

As with all the movies on the list, it’s important that a composer has an
affinity with the narrative and subject matter of the film. Vangelis’s love of
sci-fi is evident in his score for Blade Runner. He is quoted as saying,
“mythology, science and space exploration are subjects that have
fascinated me since my early childhood. And they were always connected somehow
with the music I write.”
His Blade Runner soundtrack is still seen by many to be one of his greatest
works.

 

Other films with electronic soundtracks include:

 

Drive (2011)
Escape From New York (1981)
Dredd (2012)
The Birds (1963)
Friday The 13th (1980)
Christine (1983)
PI (1998)
Requiem For A Dream (2000)
Sorcerer (1977)Do you have any favourite Electronic film scores? Use the “Comments” field to discuss. Thanks!

Copyrights and Wrongs

Copyrights and Wrongs

Is music plagiarism cut and dried or are there still ‘Blurred Lines’?

Throughout the history of music there have been melodies, rhythms and lyrics that closely resemble existing compositions. So is it clear in the eyes of the law when homage, inspiration or musical parody becomes outright musical theft?

History Repeats Itself

Despite the controversy surrounding the recent high profile case of the Thicke and Williams track ‘Blurred Lines’ and it’s legal dispute with the estate of Marvin Gaye, musical plagiarism is far from a new phenomenon.

In the early 1960’s The Beach Boys were forced to relinquish the publishing rights of their song ‘Surfin’ USA’ to Chuck Berry’s publisher due to its similarity to one of Berry’s compositions. Led Zeppelin got into hot water when there second album was found to have lyrics and riffs copied from early blues artists such as Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf.

Rod Stewart didn’t feel quite so horny when his song ‘Do You Think I’m Sexy’ was found to have a number of similarities to another composition, ‘Taj Mahal’ by Brazilian composer Jorge Ben Jor.

In the 1990’s, the Oasis hit ‘Whatever’ was forced to share songwriting credits with former Bonzo Dog & Python lyricist Neil Innes for its similarity with his song ‘How Sweet to be an Idiot’.

And the Manchester brothers were in trouble a second time when The New Seekers questioned the similarity between their hit ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’ and the Oasis song ‘Shakermaker’.

Plagiarism cases have continued throughout the 21st Century. Sam Smith’s Grammy nominated hit, ‘Stay With Me’ was the subject of an out-of-court settlement with Tom Petty and ELO’s Jeff Lynne, when it was decided the melody contained too many similarities to Petty’s hit ‘I Won’t Back Down’.

And UK producer Mark Ronson was forced to add writer’s credits to various members of The Gap Band for copying one of their hits on his multi million selling worldwide hit single ‘Uptown Funk’.

The latest high profile case concerns Jay Z and producer Timberland with their long running lawsuit defending their hit Big Pimpin’ and its interpolation of the Egyptian love ballad Khosara Khosara.
With these examples and many, many more besides, surely it’s clear that there must be very well defined rules to govern whether a song is copied or not. Or are there?

What exactly does the Law have to say about musical plagiarism?

The Law and How it Stands

Well, in many cases it seems to boil down to quantity. Exactly how much of the copyrighted material has been copied? Just a little, or is it a substantial amount?

If it’s more than what is considered to be paying homage to a particular artist or song, then the alarm bells of ‘infringement’ may begin to toll. And when an entire melody or motif is undeniably similar then the laws will irrefutably consider it as a copyright infringement.

And since the ‘Blurred Lines’ case, the substantiality clause has been extended. It’s not only a similar melody or copied lyric, but also the ‘feel’ of the composition. Its very ‘soul’. Its ‘mojo’ that may also be copied.

The second thing that the law considers is the ‘likelihood’ that the artist may have plagiarised the work. For example, someone who has gone on record as being the numero uno David Bowie fanatic all their life, is more likely to be under suspicion if they release a track based on the chord structure, lyrics and melody line of ‘Heroes’. It could indeed be presumed that they have copied the track from their ‘hero’ Mr. Bowie. Any similarities will certainly not work in their favour.

Interestingly, Bowie has often described himself as a musical magpie. Citing in one interview that it’s knowing ‘what to steal and when to steal it’ that is the trick to good songwriting.

But then again his remarkable genius elevates any would-be homage into an entirely new stratosphere. Quantum Plagiarism if you like. Yes, there may be an essence of the Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground in Aladdin Sane. But could either of those artists have written such songs or created such an album?

Thou Shalt Not Steal

Plagiarism or copying music also includes the actual physical audio. Sampling has notoriously been responsible for a number of plagiarism court cases since affordable digital samplers were introduced in the 1980s.

An early example of problems arising from digital sampling was on a record by UK chillout producers, The Orb. Their 1990 release ‘A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld’ featured a big slice of the song ‘Loving You’ by Minnie Ripperton. It floated into the track as if in a dream. Panning around the stereo field, bathed in delay and reverb. A very pleasant effect that enhanced the Orb’s live DJ shows at the time. But including it on a published release was to land them in a great deal of trouble with Minnie Ripperton’s publishers and pretty soon after the release, the record was withdrawn. Only to appear later with the Ripperton version replaced by a hastily recorded sound-alike.

Another high profile case was a little known record by Rap artist Biz Markie. The track was called ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ and featured a 10 second loop from the Gilbert O’Sullivan track of the same name. This became a test case for digital sampling when it was taken to court in 1991. O’Sullivan’s publishers won the case with the judge in summing up, quoting from the Ten Commandments. ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’.

Pretty soon after this case, publishers and record companies became aware of this new phenomenon and clauses began to appear in every new contract that was issued to bands, DJs and artists. The record companies were keen to take no responsibility for the content of the record and to ensure that the artist cleared any samples that appeared on recordings prior to their release.
But even with these clauses in place, there were still outstanding issues to resolve. Records by the likes of Snoop Dogg and Doctor Dre would simply not exist were it not for the God-like genius of legendary producer George Clinton, who is still fighting to contest royalties from a number of artists that sampled P-Funk riffs from Funkadelic & Parliament.

Making A Mockery

So what help does the Law offer to struggling composers keen to make a living from what is after all a somewhat restrictive 12 note scale?

Recent updates include a law that recognises ‘parody’.

A work that evokes an existing work while being noticeably different from it and constituting an expression of humour and mockery.

This is clearly aimed at the YouTuber generation, but it does offer a glimmer of hope that satire and parody may be recognised as a reason for plagiarism, rather than the obvious lack of originality.
However, this Law may be more help to the likes of Weird Al Yankovic or Flight of the Conchords-type parodies. Or the ancient art of musical imitation made popular in the 60’s and 70’s by artists like The Baron Knights, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and the Not The Nine O’clock News team’s musical sketches. Of little use perhaps to today’s more serious musicians, producers and songwriters who are less inclined to include humerous parody in their songwriting.

In Summing Up

Hard as it may seem, the obvious thing for songwriters to do is to never copy other artists when creating music or composing songs. But this just isn’t feasible. And as these examples prove, plagiarism is almost a necessary tool, some may say an integral part of the musical process. But it’s knowing the point where enthusiastic inspiration has spilt over into the realms of forgery. Then having the musical ability to pull back from that abyss and taking another route. Investing some pure originality into a composition. And only using other people’s work as a springboard to something new may be the key to original composition. After all, it seems that songwriting and music making owes as much to its rich, dynamic history as it does to it’s as yet unwritten future.