Thursday August 03, 2017

The Wire: Are we suffering from musical overload?


Listen to Full Episode 53:59

Electricity's done a lot of great things for music, but there have also been a few side-effects. For better or for worse, wherever you go today, music is playing — at a restaurant, in a store, at the mall, when you're on hold on the phone. Are we suffering from musical overload?  How did music came to be so ubiquitous?  And what's the difference between ambient music and aural wallpaper, relaxation and irritation?

The Wire: The Impact of Electricity on Music first aired on CBC Radio in 2005. Each episode tells the story of how electricity changed music in the 20th century, focusing on a particular new technology. On Episode 5, it's the music speaker. The series was a 2005 Peabody Award winner. This episode of The Wire was also awarded Best Documentary: Director's Choice at the Third Coast International Audio Festival in Chicago.

The Wire is presented by Jowi Taylor.

**Note: this series is not available for download and is available for listening in Canada only due to music copyright restrictions. 

Background Listening and Ambient Music
"It's funny the way it took a quiet guitar player to revolutionize instruments by trying to get his guitar to go louder but then it took a rock musician to bring back the idea of music you can barely hear. That was Brian Eno – and the famous story where he's in hospital recovering from a collapsed lung and can't reach the radio knob to turn up the 18th-century harp music so it just seemed to mingle with the sounds drifting in the window or echoing down the hall. I don't want to sound too zen about it all but when you think about it, all music is kind of about silence. I mean, we look through space to see the stars. Notes are like those stars and silence is the space between them. When you look through a telescope – or amplify a guitar or multi-track a tape – you're making those stars or sounds appear bigger. But sometimes it's nice to look through the telescope the other way – make the space more vast, the stars a bit fainter and more delicate and let your mind kind of move in the in between parts."Jowi Taylor

Guests in this episode: 

  • Steve Reich is an American composer and electronic music pioneer famous for his experimentation with tape looping techniques and minimalist compositional style.
  • David Toop is an English musician, cultural critic and author of several books including Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds.
  • Kenny Kahn is an American branding and marketing expert, and former Vice President of the Muzak company (which is today known as Mood Media).
  • John Oswald is a Canadian composer known for his pioneering work with sampling.
  • Gordon Monahan is a Canadian composer, multi-media artist and artistic director of the Electric Eclectics Festival.
  • Mark Kingwell is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto and author of several books.

Also heard in this episode on archival recordings:

  • John Cage (1912-1992) was an American composer and a leading figure of the avant-garde in the 20th century. He's perhaps most famous for his composition 4'33" - four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence.

Music featured in this episode:

  • Muzak (recorded in 2005 - company has since been purchased by Mood Media)
  • Erik Satie - Gymnopedie no. 1 (played by Reinbert de Leeuw)
  • Erik Satie - Vexations (played by Armin Fuchs)
  • Surakarta Music Conservatory Gamelan - Gending Tunggul Kawung - Gamelan of Central Java (2001)
  • Claude Debussy - Clair de Lune (played by Kun Woo Paik)
  • unidentified Balinese gamelan - Gender Wayang: Ansarun - from Music from the Morning of the World (1967)
  • The Police - Synchronicity I - Synchronicity (1983)
  • Erik Satie - Gnossienne no. 2 (played by Reinbert de Leeuw)
  • Ella Fitzgerald - What is This Thing Called Love - Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook (1956)
  • Robert Fripp & Brian Eno - Evening Star - Evening Star (1975)
  • Brian Eno - 1/1 - Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978)
  • Pete Namlook & Burhan Ocal - Bir Çalgiyim Gögsüne Yaslanmis, Part V - Sultan Osman (2001)
  • wabi - untitled - white label (2002)

The Wire Episode 5 Remix was produced by Nitsuji of the wabi collective. The series is produced by Chris BrookesPaolo Pietropaolo and Jowi Taylor. It originally aired March 1, 2005 on CBC Radio 1.