Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Wednesday Artist: The 'Soundbreaking' Series

Cover Image for Soundbreaking Book*

Recently I happened upon the excellent project Soundbreaking, an eight-part PBS television series that addresses decades of innovation and experimentation in the music industry, giving special attention to how advances in recording technology have transformed how and what we listen to.

Here's the trailer:

The brainchild of Beatles producer Sir George Martin (1926-2016), who also was a composer, conductor, arranger, and audio engineer, the series draws on more than 160 interviews with music industry pioneers, producers, and an A-to-Z list of recording artists, including Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Eric Clapton, Debbie Harry, B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Cat Stevens, and Warren Zanes.

Here's a short video about Sir Martin and his enormous contributions to music:

The eight episodes in the series, which premiered last fall, are:

✦ "The Art of Recording" ~ Featured are the stories of Sir Martin's work with the Beatles, Dr. Dre's influence on the production of hip hop music, and Rick Rubin's role in Johnny Cash's revitalized career in the 1990s.

✦ "Painting with Sound" ~ This episode looks at how Sir Martin's studio-recording work with the Beatles changed pop music, and features the stories of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, the Eurythmics, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, and musicians Beck, Bon Iver, St. Vincent, and Tune-Years.

✦ "The Human Instrument" ~ The use of Auto-tune, vocal manipulation, and other techniques to enhance or alter the human voice are examined. Featured are stories about Adele, Amy Winehouse, Kanye West, and Cher. Annie Lennox is among the musicians interviewed.

✦ "Going Electric" ~ This episode reveals how electricity and the amplifier revolutionized the sound of music, prompting invention of the electric guitar and advancing the evolution of synthesized music. Included are segments on Stevie Wonder, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, and The Black Keys.

✦ "Four on the Floor" ~ The series' fifth episode takes up experimentation with rhythm. In addition to stories about the rise of disco and electronic dance music, producers The Dream and Trick Stewart discuss writing and recording Beyonce's "Single Ladies".

✦ "The World Is Yours" ~ Included are stories about the rise of hip hop, Public Enemy, and The Beastie Boys, as well as Run-DMC's collaboration with Aerosmith on the rap/rock single "Walk this Way". The episode examines in particular the practice of "sampling" and how it ignited a debate over copyright.

✦ "Sound and Vision" ~ The seventh episode takes up the music video, looking first at how David Bowie, Blondie, and other recordings used video before the appearance of MTV, next at the influences of Michael Jackson, Madonna, and the Eurythmics, and finally at Nirvana and the "Unplugged Era".

✦ "I Am My Music" ~ For the final episode, the series shifts its attention from creating music to listening to music in its various formats (LP to mp3), as well as how we collect, store, and share music. Included are stories about Frank Sinatra's invention of the "concept album".

At each of the links above, you will find a song list and additional information about the episodes.

To access any of the episodes, go to PBS's Soundbreaking | Episodes page and click on a photo. (The series ran from November 11, 2016, through November 23, 2016; all eight episodes are available to view in full online.)

The PBS Website for Soundbreak features a blog, photos, and music playlists, and includes lesson plans and video tailored for students in social studies, language arts, geography, science, and music classes (see "For the Classroom").

The series also is available on iTunes and as Blu-ray + book or DVD + book combination (see the PBS Shop).

* The book contains a curated selection of the interviews.

Soundbreaking on FaceBook and Instagram

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