Nov
03
2010
6

What is a glass harmonica?

glass harmonicaWhat would you think of a musical instrument variously accused of causing nervous disorders, domestic squabbles, premature deliveries, ‘fatal disorders’, and convulsions in animals? The musical instrument was even banned from a German town by orders of the police for ruining the health of people and disturbing public order (a child died during a concert).  [&hel[more...]

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Jun
22
2010
0

Which songs feature Marmite in their lyrics?

marmite-loveMarmite is a sticky dark brown British yeast-based salty spread. Unlike its Australian rival Vegemite, which has inspired some professional love/hate Vegemite songs, the Marmite songs appear to be amateur productions—although some of them do have rather poignant or even disturbing lyrics. UK YouTuber Sheepstar15 sings lovingly about the “small brown jar” that helps her [&hel[more...]

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Jun
18
2010
0

Which songs feature Vegemite in their lyrics?

vegemite-loveThe iconic sandwich spread Vegemite, beloved by generations of Australians, features in the lyrics of several popular songs. The first song about Vegemite was the jingle used on advertisements for the spread, although I can’t remember hearing or seeing this ad even though I grew up in Australia. I don’t doubt that the jingle was [&hel[more...]

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Mar
19
2010
2

What did Sadie’s “Sam” turn out to be?

banksy-sadieAustralian pop superstar Johnny Farnham rose to fame in 1967-68 with a massively-successful song Sadie, the Cleaning Lady (video). No other song by an Australian artist had done so well on the Australian charts during the 1960s. Although the song is musically unadventurous, it launched Farnham’s career. The video is in black and white, because [&hel[more...]

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Feb
17
2010
6

Where did Johnny Cash's Scottish ancestors come from?

Easter Cash, Fife, Scotland: Did Johnny Cash's ancestors live near here? (Photo by Iain Gillespie, CC-BY)In the 1670s a young Scotsman called William Cash sailed to the New World and set up home in Virginia.  Nine generations later his direct descendant, country music star Johnny Cash, wanted to explore his ancestry. He crossed the Atlantic in the other direction, to visit the part of Fife once known as the “lands [&hel[more...]

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Feb
17
2010
1

What is the history of the Abbey Road Studios?

Abbey Road Studios. (photo by Misterweiss PD)The news that EMI are selling the Abbey Road Studios where the Beatles recorded the majority of their records, led me to do some research on the history of the building in which the studios are located. Number 3, Abbey Road, St John’s Wood, London, was built in the 1830s. Number 3 was called Agnes [&hel[more...]

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Feb
10
2010
--

Do organs have to be tuned?

Tuning caps and slides on the world's largest pipe organ (photo by anne.oeldorfhirsch - CC-BY)This article is not about human organs (but if you think your organs need tuning, Quezi's pseudoscience department has a link for you). No, it's about pipe organs. Of course, pipe organs must be tuned when they are installed, but do they need retuning? The pipes just sit there in a big, substantial housing, so [&hel[more...]

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Feb
09
2010
1

What is a hemidemisemiquaver?

Fugue in G minor, BWV 1000, by J S Bach (photo by Jorge Franganillo - CC-BY)What is a hemidemisemiquaver? Does it help to add hyphens: hemi-demi-semi-quaver? Maybe that suggests that something small. It is! It's the British musical term for what the Americans and Germans call a 64th note. And since occasionally 128th notes occur, they are called semihemidemisemiquavers or quasihemidemisemiquavers. A demisemiquaver is, of course, a 32nd note, and [&hel[more...]

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Jan
27
2010
0

Did Mama Cass Elliot choke to death on a ham sandwich?

Photo by WordRidden - CC-BYCass Elliot was the heavyweight of the 60s group The Mamas And The Papas in more ways than one. She had a fabulous voice and tremendous stage presence, but was also seriously obese. Cass died on 29 July 1974 at the age of 32 at Flat 12, 9 Curzon Place, Mayfair, London—the same flat where [&hel[more...]

Oct
04
2009
0

How Can I Find Any Musicians in My Family History?

Musicians at a square dance, ca 1939 (Flickr Commons nckr)You got your musical chops somewhere. But in which branch of the great family tree of your ancestors did the musical talent first make itself known? There are a number of very good sources for searching back several generations or more to find musically talented folk who were part of your family’s heritage.   The [&hel[more...]

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Jun
25
2009
0

Does DRM (digitally restricted media) make economic sense?

DRM - defective by design (photo by chegs - CC-BY)At first glance it seems obvious that slapping DRM on commercial music and video will stop people from copying the content, and will increase the profit of the content distributors. But a more careful analysis shows that this is unlikely to be the case. The apparent DRM profit (i.e. the extra profit due to DRM [&hel[more...]

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Jun
09
2009
0

Who is Rolf Harris?

Rolf Harris street art, Melbourne (photo by Toots Fontaine - CC-BY)Rolf Harris is a versatile multi-talented performer, born in Perth, Australia, on 30 March 1930. In 1952 he came to England to study art and, apart from brief stints in Australia and Canada between 1959 and 1962, has lived in England since. His early television break was as a children’s entertainer, and he continued that [&hel[more...]

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Jun
08
2009
2

What is a mondegreen?

"Streaming Green" by The Wandering Angel. CC-BY.If you’ve ever heard a song on the radio or an album and thought the words said something other than what they really were, you’ve experienced a mondegreen. Although “mondegreen” usually refers to misunderstood song lyrics, it can also refer to any poetry or even statement that’s misunderstood because of words or phrases that sound [&hel[more...]

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Jun
07
2009
5

What do the lyrics of “Jambalaya” mean?

Louisiana bayou (photo by NatalieMaynor - CC-BY)Jambalaya is a catchy ditty from 1952 by Hank Williams Sr. (video). It’s an upbeat song about a great feast and party, but the words to Jambalaya are cryptic because they’re a mixture of English and Cajun French with a bit of poetic license thrown in: Goodbye Joe, he gotta go, me oh my oh [&hel[more...]

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May
29
2009
2

Who owns the copyright to “Happy Birthday to You”?

Photo by telachhe - CC-BYIt’s hard to imagine that such a commonplace song as Happy Birthday to You is still under copyright, but in most countries that’s the case. The copyright is owned by the Time Warner conglomerate, and if you sing it in a public place (such as at a restaurant) you are liable to pay a royalty [&hel[more...]

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May
14
2009
0

What is bubblegum music?

Bubblegum Pop (artiwork by levaine - CC-BY)Bubblegum music is a kind of pop music manufactured to appeal to young teens and pre-teens. The songs have simple melodies and regular “bopping” beats. The repetitive, easy-to-remember riffs and choruses make the songs easy to learn and easy to sing. The lyrics are straightforward, even stupidly simplistic, though sometimes with a double entendre thrown [&hel[more...]

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May
13
2009
1

What is heavy metal music?

Heavy Metal Music (artwork my Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com)Heavy metal music is a kind of hard rock music. It’s characterised by more than just its musical attributes, but music is the obvious place to begin… Most of all, heavy metal is loud. If it were played quietly as elevator music, it would be light metal music. It’s not the peak volume that counts, [&hel[more...]

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Apr
25
2009
0

What did Albert Einstein do apart from the theory of relativity?

Photo by the bridge - CC-BYIn a 1929 interview, Albert Einstein said: If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music… I do know that I get most joy in life out of my violin. And indeed he [&hel[more...]

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Apr
08
2009
2

How do vinyl records and record players work?

Vinyl record grooves (photo by Roomic Cube - CC-BY)Vinyl records fell out of use following the introduction of Compact Discs. However, they are still made in limited numbers, as are record players. A vinyl record contains a long spiral groove on each side. The sound is encoded into this groove by “wiggling” the groove from side to side in proportion to the sound [&hel[more...]

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Mar
27
2009
1

Do famous singers use electronics to “fix” their off-notes?

Photo by Julián Rodriguez Orihuela - CC-BYIf you listen to records from the 50s and 60s you’ll find that the vocal pitch is often way off. But listen to modern pop music and it’s usually perfect pitch. What changed? Truly great singers like Bob Dylan never worried too much about whether they were singing on-key or not, but masses of aspiring [&hel[more...]

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