Sep 6 2017

X-Factory: Rounding Up The Silver Scroll Finalists

The five songs in with a chance to win this year’s APRA Silver Scroll Award are Close Your Eyes by Bic Runga, Life of the Party by Chelsea JadeHorizon by Aldous HardingRichard by Nadia Reid and Lorde’s Green Light. Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue…

Okay, so maybe the ‘blue’ part of that familiar expression is pushing it a little – other than as a reference to the Afro-American origins of popular music over a century ago, arguably from which much contemporary music is derived. But still, reflecting on the finalist choices for the 2017 Silver Scroll Awards, I couldn’t help but notice that these songs are all connected by concept.

They each: (1) adhere to cultural norms currently situated in contemporary pop music (further discussion of which is provided below); (2) contain distinctly salient features framed within those cultural norms; and (3) pay homage to previously established musical styles, borrowing from older generations of musicians and their creative legacy.

Borrowing from the past is nothing new. Recent innovators such as Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson are no strangers to using genre specific compositional techniques, and the result helps frame songs in a larger timeframe, perspective, and consequently audience. With the above observations in mind, let’s look at the final five.

BIC RUNGA: CLOSE YOUR EYES

Bic Runga’s Close Your Eyes plays stylistic tribute to the ephemeral sounds of the flower power ‘60s, The Beatles, Small Faces, The Byrds, and perhaps even a pinch of Stone Roses. Yet at the same time Runga employs the kind of attention grabbing devices found in 21st Century chart culture. For example, the intro is just long enough to hear a rhythmically stabilising analogue synth-type hook line (against an energetic drum groove), but being only 8-bars long it doesn’t make the listener wait too long before the vocals enter.

Current trends in arrangement rely on the need to generate almost instant limbic reward. Hooks and melodies need to be almost instantaneously appealing, there is no space for dead bars, competition is high, and simply put it is ‘survival of the fittest’ in musical format. Runga achieves this via the combination of nostalgia mixed with a modern twist.

Vocals are mixed in front (a modern norm to allow for a satisfactory performance on any device). The major sub-dominant chord employed in the piece lifts the mood if you subscribe to theories of musical equilibration, which is congruent to a positive lyrical semantic, even though the piece is in a minor key. Very clever work. Harmonic expectations are thwarted via the lack of cadential movement in bars 7-8 in each 8-bar hypermeter. This is an attention grabbing device, and a way helping perpetuate the forward motion of the strophe.

CHELSEA JADE: LIFE OF THE PARTY

Chelsea Jade’s Life of the Party contains an interesting backbeat-focused accompaniment heard in the verses by finger clicks and vocals on the 2 and the 4 – but at the same time the supporting groove is very 8th note-based, echoing the pulse-like-ness of tunes reminiscent of the 1980s. The chorus is extremely catchy and syncopated and cleverly stated instrumentally during the intro of the track, so that when you hear the chorus for the first time, you feel you already know it.

Prolific songwriter Max Martin uses this device to help aid the listener’s sense of perceived familiarity, a precursor to limbic reward. The clinical sounding root- and fifth-focused melodic line is reminiscent of the trend heard by singers such as Taylor Swift and Lorde, as we currently favour a simpler harmonic and melodic palette compared to earlier decades. Another salient feature of this track is Jade’s use of ‘cockney’ accent-type phrasing over the lyrics, ‘Got gravel embedded in my hands’ in the bridge. This affected singing technique plays a distinct part in this track.

ALDOUS HARDING: HORIZON

In Horizon, the elephant in the room is Aldous Harding’s prominent vocal style, reminiscent of Edith Piaf, a popular French singer in the mid 20th Century. This strong vocal vibrato is unapologetic in nature and requires an equally unapologetic accompaniment, provided by effected strings and piano. Harding’s accompaniment further adds to the boldness of this track via a simple, deliberate, and economic production style.

Again, if one were to subscribe to musical equilibration then use of the harmony derived from the natural minor mode creates a sense of courage, adventure, tension, danger, severity, a challenging situation (think music to Game of Thrones here), which is resolved in the chorus to a major tonality, alluding to a sense of narrative success inferred by the lyrics, ‘here is your princess, here is your horizon’, providing prosodic congruence.

NADIA REID: RICHARD

Richard by Nadia Reid immediately breaks taboos for a folk musician, firstly with the choice of snare sound and drum groove throughout providing a modern take on an established feel; and secondly the verse length, practically devoid of phrasing space for surprising long 8-bars!

This device is heard in The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel, to some extent, and is unusual as it doesn’t allow for lyrical reflection by the listener. Perhaps this is a deliberate move as ironically, the first lyric is, ‘Richard liked the sound of his own voice…’ Nadia Reid’s Suzanne Vega/Tom’s Diner-esque inspired lyrics again borrow from an older time, and the hypnotic state that one reaches as a result of the repetitive snare drum and ethereal guitar (Sam Taylor – guitars and male vox) juxtaposes the over-active vocal line. Genius.

LORDE: GREEN LIGHT

Finally, Lorde’s Green Light resembles the economic-ness of Taylor Swift-like melodies, but adding a touch of spice by employing some well-crafted surprises, providing the quirky backdrop that Lorde’s vocal and stage persona requires – another singer with a remarkably unique voice.

Green Light contains the kind of production mastery of successful Top 20 hits, but Lorde is afforded the opportunity to take more risks due to her astronomical fan base. I am referring in this case to the jarring effect of the syncopated piano and vocal heard at the end of each line of the verse, which is particularly audacious due to the sparseness of the arrangement.

The temporal density of the pre-chorus is perhaps a reaction to the lyrics, ‘Those great whites, they have big teeth’, almost like the notes are trying to run away from a dangerous animal. The chorus transfers into a dance track just after the lyric, ‘How we kissed when we danced on the light up floor’, and Lorde borrows harmonic movement from tunes like Hey Joe (Jimi Hendrix) and Hush (Deep Purple), with the use of major chords descending in fourths. The pre-chorus is also reminiscent of brisk Bollywood melodies consisting of an anapaestically-derived rhythm (two semiquavers followed by a quaver).

So it does seem like the secret of writing critically acclaimed tunes in the current climate requires:

  • Stylistic familiarity pertaining to post 1960’s pop and rock music.
  • An understanding of tools that allow artists/producers to compete sonically with their contemporaries.
  • Artistic audacity to reach beyond homogeneity in a creative environment.

Dr Mark Baynes is the Programme Manager for the Bachelor of Musical Arts degree at MAINZ, Auckland; a degree program that fosters students’ ability to find their own musical voice, culminating with the creation of a capstone project such as an album, film score or music for game audio. 


Aug 18 2017

Tune Me In Article – July 2017

An article recently published on incongruence in music. Article can be downloaded here.

Thanks, Mark


Jun 15 2017

APSCOM6 Conference Paper for KYOTO 25-27th August

APSCOM6 Conference Paper for KYOTO 25-27th August

Excited to be presenting my research at APSCOM6, Asia-Pacific Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music, August 25-27, in Kyoto, Japan. The theme is Music as a universal human faculty: Exploring its biological, psychological, and cultural dimensions. Click above for a link to the full paper.

Conference details

Cognitive sciences on music is a field of study which aims to clarify such aspects as perception/cognition, thinking, feeling, the mechanism and process of development which serve to mediate music. Depending on the object of research, a multi-disciplinary approach can be adopted incorporating such fields as psychology, brain science, acoustics, information engineering, medicine, physiology and musicology.

The conference is therefore open to everyone from all fields of study and from around the world. In APSCOM 6, there will be key note lectures, research presentations, and concerts such as jazz, gamelan, gagaku, and didgeridoo. The theme of APSCOM 6 will be “Music as a universal human faculty: Exploring its biological, psychological, and cultural dimensions” Since ancient times, music has been with human beings.

Through studies of the musical faculties of human beings, we aim to explore the great potential of human beings. We are therefore awaiting presentations and lively discussions on this theme. Kyoto Women’s University, located near the famous Honganji temple, is a Buddhist university with a history of 105 years. The university is in the center of Kyoto city and has easy access to the Kyoto National Museum which will hold some of the APSCOM 6 events.


Jun 2 2017

Do Y’wanna ‘Know’ What I ‘Know’? – A Christmas Case Study of Musical Irony

Do Y’wanna Know What I Know – A Christmas Case Study Of Musical Irony

Do Y’wanna Know What I Know – A Christmas Case Study Of Musical Irony from Australian Music Psychology Society Newsletter Edition 5, 2016 – Mark Baynes.

Spoiler alert – if you love Christmas carols then please read no further. In the book, The evolution of emotional communication, Altenmuller, Schmidt, and Zimmermann suggest that emotional responses of basic emotions (e.g. happiness, sadness, anger, fear) are ‘remarkably invariant across listeners of different ages’ (2013, p.277). Juslin and Sloboda found that ‘the ascribed emotion of a music performance could be well predicted from a fairly small set of characteristics, relating to pitch, speed, intensity, and articulation etc.’, and that these characteristics are also used to evaluate emotions in a person’s speech (Juslin & Sloboda, 2011, p.84). But in Expression of emotion in music and vocal communication: Introduction to the research topic, Bhatara, Laukka, and Levitin agree that emotions resulting from incongruent songs (containing incongruent interaction between music and lyrics) are more complex than basic emotions, due to the ironic context from which they are experienced (2014, p.212).

“Incongruent interactions transform meaning from what might be gleaned from listening to either the music or the lyrics alone…incongruent interactions make messages more poignant and can serve as an anthem for social movements…however, incongruent interactions run the risk of listener misinterpretation” (Herrmann and Herbig, 2016, p.72). For example, incongruence can be found in a track entitled Perfect day (Reed, 1972), where the subtext of the song alludes to a premise that the singer’s day is made ‘perfect’ from an addiction to opiates. The musical accompaniment is innocent but the lyrical meaning is darker. Another example is Do you hear what I hear? made famous by Bing Crosby in the 1960’s. On one level, this is simply a contemporary Christmas song, arguably an interpretation of Christian nativity. Lyrical indicators in this carol that corroborate this interpretation include phrases such as “Shepherd boy”, “A star dancing in the night”, “Mighty king”, and “A child shivers in the cold”. With the exception of the military style drumming the music accompaniment could easily be described as initially calm, choral and reflective, moving towards a denser climatic finale using strings, a transposition up a minor second, use of a brass section, and increased counterpoint.

Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker composed this carol during the period of unease caused by the Cuban missile crisis and its lyrics reflect a message for peace. Ironically (and anecdotally) Bing Crosby recorded his vocals to the song on November 22, 1963, the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas (see https://www.carols.org.uk/do-you-hear-what-i-hear.htm). Non-congruence is effective in providing the listener with mixed messages, arguably interpreted as irony through a darker twist of a seemingly positive message. In the case of Do you hear what I hear, the lyrics “A star, a star, dancing in the night with a tail as big as a kite” now suggests images of war; a nuclear missile heading towards an innocent narrator perhaps, rather than a navigational constellation and interstellar awe. Likewise, the lyrics “A song, song, high above the tree with a voice as big as the sea”, infers images of a thermonuclear explosion, rather than a choral culmination.

This was a surprise, and the psychological affect that this song has on me is forever changed. In Sweet anticipation, David Huron states, “The phenomenon of ‘surprise’ represents a failure of expectation. From a biological perspective, surprise is always a bad thing. Even when the surprising outcome turns out to be good, failing to anticipate the outcome means that the brain has failed to provide useful information about possible futures. Predictive failures are therefore cause for biological alarm. If an animal is to be prepared for the future, the best surprise is no surprise” (Huron, 2006, p.21). From a phenomenological perspective, my lived experience of listening to Do you hear what I hear? after my hermeneutical epiphany, is quite different from my initial listen – the snare drum has much more significance, clearly inferring military action, and the lyrics far more sobering. The surprise that I felt gave salience to my perception of this track, and has continued to do so every listen since.

References

Altenmuller, E., & Schmidt S., & Zimmermann E. (2013). The Evolution of Emotional Communication: From Sounds in Nonhuman Mammals to Speech and Music in Man. Oxford University Press.

Bhatara, A., Laukka, P., & Levitin, D. J. (2014). Expression of emotion in music and vocal communication: Introduction to the research topic. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 399. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00399

Huron, D. (2006). Sweet anticipation: Music and the psychology of expectation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Herrmann, A. and Herbig, A. (2016). Communication Perspectives on Popular Culture. Lexington Books.

Juslin P.N., & Sloboda J. (2011). Handbook of Music and Emotion: Theory, Research, and Applications. Oxford University Press.

Reed, L. (1972). Transformer. RCA, London.


Oct 11 2016

Programme Manager – Bachelor of Musical Arts @ MAINZ

 

mainz-for-webI have recently accepted the post of Programme Manager for the Bachelor of Musical Arts Degree, at the Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand (MAINZ), part of Tai Poutini Polytechnic.

This role predominately involves researching, running, and developing the music degree offered at MAINZ, which has a contemporary music focus.

Unfortunately this means that I am no longer able to teach piano privately any more. If you wish to study at MAINZ however, drop me a line on markb@tpp.ac.nz


Dec 7 2015

Alicia Keys and Contrastive Valence in ‘Fallin’

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Click the link above to watch my new video on contrastive valence on www.psychologyinmusic.com.  Wondered when singing flat was a good thing? Wondered when a wrong note is actually the right note?

Please support my new venture, www.psychologyinmusic.com.  This is a new website containing videos and articles linking music and psychology.  The aim is to create a set of videos that outline techniques, grounded in psychology, that can be used by performers, composers and arrangers.  All articles are grounded in recent research; in this site, the bias is on musical tools rather than academic discourse.  Psychology in music is very young, and study of it is really exciting!  Please visit the site at www.psychologyinmusic.com and subscribe if you like what you see!  I will be uploading more videos this week; the first one is a psychological analysis of the bridge of Fallin’, by Alicia Keys.

Thanks for supporting my music.

Dr Mark Baynes


Nov 24 2015

Psychology In Music

Please support my new venture, www.psychologyinmusic.com.  This is a new website containing videos and articles linking music and psychology.  The aim is to create a set of videos that outline techniques, grounded in psychology, that can be used by performers, composers and arrangers.  All articles are grounded in recent research; in this site, the bias is on musical tools rather than academic discourse.  Psychology in music is very young, and study of it is really exciting!  Please visit the site at www.psychologyinmusic.com and subscribe if you like what you see!  I will be uploading more videos this week; the first one is a psychological analysis of the bridge of Fallin’, by Alicia Keys.

Thanks for supporting my music.

Dr Mark Baynes

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Nov 12 2015

Vintage Key Studios

Please support my new venture, Vintage Key Studios. As you may be aware, I have been collecting vintage keyboard instruments for several years, and now I am in a position where I can offer recording services.  Please read the welcome page below and visit the site, if you get a chance.

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Welcome to Vintage Key Studios (www.vintagekeystudios.com)

Vintage Key Studios specialise in the recording of quality vintage keyboards. Situated in Auckland, New Zealand, we can either record you on one of our instruments here in the studio, or we can record the session for you, using our house keys player Mark Baynes. Please read about each of the keyboard instruments we have on offer by clicking on the links.

Tired of the thinness of plugin keyboard instruments? Want a real keyboard sound in your mix?
Then maybe this service is for you. Previous clients include Tiny Ruins, Anika Moa, Tim Finn, King Kapisi, Kora, Henrique Morales and Seth Haapu. We use high end Apogee digital converters, top shelf microphones (Neuman U87, AKG C414s, and an Earthworks PM-40), and Avalon, Vintage Ampex and Universal Audio preamps. Your sound can be recorded clean or subject to a variety of tube/vintage stages, adding as much warmth as required. Our tracking booth is also available for vocal/instrumental tracking. Even our studio furnishing was built using parts from an old upright piano!

Files can be transferred and payment made online, so you can order your recordings from anywhere around the world. This is a boutique business that only survives through our passion for preserving quality instruments, as we believe that no other solution is really good enough!

Please drop us a line if you wan’t to find out more; thanks for stopping by.

Mark @ Vintage Key Studios.


Jul 14 2015

Performing with US production of Chicago the musical – June to August 2015

I am lucky enough to be performing piano and accordion with a US touring production of Chicago, the musical, here in Seoul Korea. The venue is the prestigious National Theatre of Korea. I will be here for one more month.  The band is excellent, all UK-based musicians from the West End of London.  The cast, some of whom have been playing their roles for over a decade, have experience on Broadway and previous touring productions on Chicago.  The MD is Robert Billig, a stalwart in the New York Broadway scene.

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May 14 2015

Analytic, Descriptive and Prescriptive Components of Evolving Jazz – A New Model Based on the Works of Brad Mehldau

Download Here

Analytic, Descriptive and Prescriptive Components of Evolving Jazz – A New Model Based on the Works of Brad Mehldau

My Doctor of Musical Arts Thesis, abstract below:-

Jazz has steadily evolved from its inception in the late 19th century to the present. As is the case for other genres, musicological analytic research on jazz evolution has lagged behind its practice; consequently, there is a paucity of in-depth descriptive and analytic research on the music of recent innovators. Among the most recent examples of this evolution, the works of Brad Mehldau as a solo/ensemble pianist and as a composer arguably embody some of the most compelling innovations in the field. Non-academically oriented jazz writers and fans have consistently assigned these works vanguard status, but Mehldau’s output has not yet been sufficiently examined to prescribe performance methods. This exegesis contains (1) descriptive analysis of improvisation contained within a broad cross-section of Mehldau’s music; (2) definition of a new analytical lexicon derived from a holistic study of consonance, dissonance, and research into perceived motivation in music; and (3) prescriptive musical tools relating to consonance and dissonance that have informed the researcher’s performance.