We don't know much about the human brain on music. Do people instinctively know the sound patterns of the pentatonic scale? Is there a base level of musical knowledge in all of us, just waiting to be tapped? Or is the pentatonic scale simply so common in Western music that it has become ingrained in all of our minds? Improvisational genius Bobby McFerrin uses audience participation to demonstrate the power of the pentatonic scale - or at least the audience's familiarity with it.
The composer examines the extraordinarily fertile musical period between 1650 and 1750, which saw innovations including the orchestra, the overture, modern tuning, the oratorio and the piano. Vivaldi developed a form of concerto where a charismatic solo violin was pitted against the rest of the orchestra, Bach wrote complex and heartfelt music in his mission to glorify God, and Handel brought all the techniques of the preceding 100 years to his oratorio Messiah.
Suzy Klein explores the use, abuse and manipulation of music in the Second World War - from swinging jazz to film soundtracks and from ballads to ballets. The war, she demonstrates, wasn't just a military fight but an ideological battle where both sides used music as a weapon to secure their vision for civilisation. Suzy reveals how the forces' sweetheart Vera Lynn was taken off air by the BBC for fear her sentimental songs undermined the British war effort. She reveals the war work of two British composers. Walton's Spitfire Prelude became the archetype for a particularly British form of patriotic music. By contrast, Tippett was sent to prison for being a conscientious objector, but his anti-war oratorio A Child of Our Time was showcased at the Royal Albert Hall. Suzy examines Olivier Messiaen's haunting Quartet for the End of Time, written in a POW camp. At Auschwitz, Suzy reveals how music was co-opted to serve the Nazis' evil purposes.
Asif Kapadia's poignant and critically acclaimed documentary portrait of singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, the English soul, jazz and R 'n' B phenomenon who died tragically before her time. Kapadia traces her volatile life and artistic success over the 13 years preceding her death from alcohol poisoning on 23rd July 2011, aged just 27. The documentary tells Amy's story via her music and autobiographical song lyrics, video footage shot by her friends and family, archive clips from TV appearances, plus voiceover interviews with people who were personally and professionally close to her. But, as the film progresses, the hope and promise of her early career is steadily undermined by the self-destructive chaos of alcohol and drug addiction and the pressures of a life lived under the intense focus of global media attention.
2016 • Music
Musician Neil Brand explores the magical elements that come together to create great songs by recreating some of the most memorable and innovative recording sessions in music history - from Elvis's slapback echo in Memphis and the Beatles' tape loops at Abbey Road to Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and the Beach Boys' pop symphonies. He shows that all this was made possible by the discovery of magnetic tape by an American soldier in the ruins of WWII Germany, the invention that, more than any other, drove the emergence of the music studio as a compositional tool and the rise of the producer as a new creative force shaping the sound of song.
DJ and broadcaster Rita Ray travels to Mali in West Africa, home to a deep musical culture and ancient instruments that are the hallmark of their sound. Mali has produced more Grammy-winning artists than any other African country, and this well of talent has drawn in artists and producers from around the world to collaborate with the local musicians. Whilst the country has been rocked by Islamist insurgency, leading to a ban on music in some areas, Rita finds out how a traditional way of life and rich musical culture have endured.
Lenny Kaye, Patti Smith’s guitarist, explains how the quest for new guitar sounds has driven the history of popular music, from Les Paul’s first guitar to Bo Diddley’s tremolo, Duane Eddy’s whammy bar, Keith Richards’s fuzz pedal, The Who’s feedback, The Byrds’ 12-string, Hendrix’s wah-wah pedal, Uli Roth and Van Halen’s shredding, The Edge’s digital delay, Ry Cooder’s slide, and KT Tunstall and Ed Sheeran’s looper pedals. With Duane Eddy, Roger McGuinn, The Edge, Bonnie Raitt, Seasick Steve, KT Tunstall, Joe Bonamassa, Uli Roth, Vernon Reid, Heart’s Nancy Wilson, The Runaways’ Lita Ford and producer Shel Talmy.