We Review the Best Amplifiers for Rock Music

rock face

Ever since its inception in the 1950’s and the 1960’s, rock music was first among all the other genres to push the boundaries and bring something new.

And it was up to the guitar players to do their best to shock the people by showing them what their instruments can do.

The constant struggle to achieve the heavy tone eventually led to the complete innovation within the genre, ultimately giving birth to heavy metal and all of its sub-genres.

sabbath1970

But the main thing always remains – if you want to play rock music, you need to know that the standards are high and that you have to have a good tone.

This means you need a solid guitar, solid pedals, and a solid amp. With all this in mind, we will be digging deep into the world of guitar gear and finding the best amps for rock music.

Table of Contents:

Let’s get into it!


Boss Katana 100

boss katana 100 watt guitar amplifier black

After all these years, tube amps are still generally regarded as the best amps for pretty much any genre. However, some prefer to use solid-state amps, not only because of their lower prices but also due to their distinct tones. And that’s especially the case with rock music.

Boss introduced the new series of products in 2016, solid-state amps called Katana. Among the few variations, all of which are great, Katana 100 stands out. This 100-watt amplifier can deliver some seriously tight tones with pretty surprising quality for a solid-state piece.

There are five different amp models on it, a 3-band EQ, additional effects, two channels, one 12-inch speaker, FX loop, and power attenuation for 50 watts and 0.5 watts. The inclusion of power attenuation is kind of unusual for a solid-state amp, but it certainly gives some versatile options here.

Here is a video demo of the Boss Katana 100 by Anderton’s Music Co.

Up next, the Peavy Bandit 112…


Peavey Bandit 112

Peavey Bandit 112 amp

Peavey Bandit amps are another cheaper alternative that still manages to deliver some solid tones. Although solid-state, the Bandit 112 implements the so-called TransTube technology that manages to imitate the tone quality and dynamic response of classic tube amps.

The overall output power is 80 watts and the amp features one 12-inch speaker. There are two channels – one clean and one lead – both of which work with two separate outputs ñ high gain and low gain. This way, you’re able to use the amp normally if your guitar has high output pickups.

The lead channel gets pretty interesting with different voicing options and separate controls for pre and post gain. Despite its relatively lower price, this amp works great for some solid rock tones.

Here’s a video demo of the Peavy Bandit 112 by Willy Booger.

Up next…the Orange Rocker 15 Terror.


Orange Rocker 15 Terror

Orange Rocker 15 Terror

If you’re looking to buy a tube amp, know that 15 watts can be more than enough if the amp is good. This is the case with Rocker 15 Terror by Orange.

The company has built its reputation over the years for building some of the best amps for rock and metal tones over the years. With Rocker 15 Terror amp head, we realize why there’s all the praise for Orange as it is a two-channel amp with a simple layout and loads of possibilities that can deliver some serious rock and metal tones.

It features three 12AX7 tubes and one 12AT7 tube in the preamp, while the power section holds two EL84s.

At full potential, you can feel its sheer power and that raw high gain that still manages not to sound too muddy even at higher settings. There’s also power attenuation for 7 watts, 1 watt, and even 0.5 watts for some late-night bedroom practice sessions.

It’s a straightforward rock tube amp and worth every penny.

Here’s a review of the Orange Rocker 15 Terror Amp by Guitar Interactive.

Up next, the Vox AC30C2…


Vox AC30C2

vox ac30c2

There’s barely any other amp model out there that as famous as the good old Vox AC30. First introduced way back in 1958, the model is still being made to this day, with the tone staying pretty much close to the original but delivering some new modern features.

This 30-watt amplifier has two channels, two Celestion G12M Greenback 12-inch speakers, and four different inputs ñ high and low gain both for normal and top boost modes. As for the tubes, there are three 12AX7s in the preamp and 4 EL84s in the power section, the standard configuration for British-style amps.

Overall, this amp delivers a lot of solid tones but is largely popular for classic rock and hard rock tones. It can get bright and a bit heavy on the high-end spectrum, but that’s something that a lot of guitar players are looking for. Also, it rocks that beautiful classic Vox design.

Here’s a demo of the Vox AC30 by Dave Devlin Music.

Up next, the Hughes & Kettner Black Spirit 200…


Hughes & Kettner Black Spirit 200

Hughes & Kettner Black Spirit 200

German-based amp manufacturers Hughes & Kettner are well-known for making solid amps and other products with some of the fullest, thickest, and most powerful tones. But just when we thought they can’t surprise us after great amp series like Switchblade or Tubemeister, we get the Black Spirit 200 amp head.

This extremely powerful 200-watt amp has four channels on it ñ clean, crunch, lead, and ultra ñ all of which can be tweaked in countless different ways to suit player’s needs.

Being a tube amp, it’s surprising to know that you can get those full tones even with the master volume even on the lower settings. Besides, there’s power attenuation for 20-watt and even 2-watt modes.

As if this wasn’t enough, it has an abundance of amp models and a DI output to go straight into the mix.

Here’s a demo of the Hughes & Kettner Black Spirit 200 by Ola Englund.

Up next…the MESA/Boogie Mark V.


MESA/Boogie Mark V

Mesa Boogie Mark V

Mesa Boogie is pretty much a standard go-to brand for rock musicians. On their Mark V model, they further developed what they did on their old amps, like the legendary IIC+.

Bear in mind that it’s not cheap and that it’s designed for professionals. But the abundance of options and the mind-blowing tone is worth it.

Three channels with separate EQ’s and voicing controls, 90 watts with 10- and 45-watt options, and even an additional independent switchable 5-band graphic EQ to add more flavor for special lead or rhythm sections.

This amp is a pure beast and something that you should check out.

Here’s a demo of the Mesa Boogie Mark V by MESA/Boogie.

Up next…some experts give their take on the question at hand.


Guitar Shop Picks

We spoke to Jim Deitzel from Cottonwood Music Emporium in Costa Mesa, California, to see if he had any favourite amps for rock he wanted to recommend. 

Jim says: “The Divided by13 BTR23 is a great amp for rock. It sports KT88 which rock, has a push/pull volume for extra gain.  It works perfectly with pedals and just kills.”

Good one!


Conclusion

If you are a musician and your goal is to play rock music, these are each amplifiers that you should at least take into consideration, before deciding what amp you really want to go with. 

Amps like these may sound great out of the gate, but there’s always new tricks to learn.  Let us know what you consider to be the best amp for rock music in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

Bang Bang Bar Band Talks Twin Peaks – An Interview with Au Revoir Simone’s Heather D’Angelo

au revoire simone twin peaks

As a fan of Twin Peaks, and specifically the music the show has produced over the years, Season 3 had me wondering, like many fans, about some of the musical acts that were featured at the Bang Bang Bar (commonly referred to as the Roadhouse).  Many of these performers were indie acts, with a few exceptions.

The full list of musical performers who performed at the Bang Bang Bar during Season 3 include: Chromatics, The Cactus Blossoms, Au Revoir Simone, Trouble, Sharon Van Etten, Nine Inch Nails, Hudson Mohawke, Rebekah del Rio, Moby, Lissie, The Veils, Eddie Vedder, and Julee Cruise.

The Twin Peaks Season 3 Soundtrack expands on the above list with many other tracks from the show, with the overall musical effect of the entire track list being that of a tour de force.

twin peaks season 3 soundtrack

The music of Twin Peaks has always been exceptional, with the main theme song written by Angelo Badalamenti even winning a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance back in 1991.

music from twin peaks angelo badalamenti

The music of Twin Peaks remains unique.  In this article, I had the chance to interview one of the members of Au Revoir Simone, Heather D’Angelo, now a Bang Bang Bar band alum, and ask her about her own personal Twin Peaks experience. (skip to the interview)

But first, a bit of context…

About The Bang Bang Bar (The Roadhouse)

twin peaks bang bang bar

In Twin Peaks Seasons 1 and 2, the Roadhouse was established as a location on the show that fit into the nuanced plot written by David Lynch and Mark Frost, and would tie into the overall arc of the show sporadically, with drama between the shows’ characters playing out there from time to time.

The concept of the “Bang Bang Bar”, as it was referred to as more so in Season 3, was also the show’s musical center in seasons 1 and 2.  However, Julee Cruise and her band were the only act we see play there during the first two seasons.

As viewers, we can only assume that Julee Cruise was only one act of many to pass through there, but we never get to see any other acts play.  Perhaps this is something Lynch sought to correct in this latest season of Twin Peaks.

During the first two seasons, Julee appears there several times throughout the entire run of the show (including the movie prequel, “Fire Walk With Me”), playing her soft, angelic music juxtaposed against some dark, depraved drama taking place in the plot, creating a juxtaposition of both tranquility mixed with violence – an unsettling combination to be sure.

With the Roadhouse being such a seedy juncture in the Twin Peaks world, the idea of such a pure and unfettered sound of one such as Julee Cruise performing in such a dark place was and still is an unlikely proposition.

Fast forward 25 years…

25 years later twin peaks

Enter: Twin Peaks, Season 3

Enter Twin Peaks: Season 3 (The Return), aired in 2017.  The plot picks up almost literally 25 years after the finale of Season 2, where Cooper becomes possessed by Bob and delivers his famous line: “How’s Annie?”

This final episode (called “Beyond Life and Death”) to a beloved TV series was not the ending many fans were hoping for, but that’s the way director David Lynch chose to end the show, when this final episode of Season 2 first aired on June 10, 1991.

The reasons for this ending to Season 2 were perplexing to fans, but no less perplexing than the entire run of the show itself up until that point, really.

Still, while hardcore Lynch fans always appreciate a good Lynch-ian twist, more casual (and probably less fanatical for absurdist cinema) fans of the show were left with mild cases of PTSD from watching their beloved Cooper become possessed by the ultimate evil, and then: roll credits.

Perhaps it had something to do with David Lynch not directing the majority of Season 2, and walking away from the show until the final episode, where he comes back with the express purpose to, in his own special way, put an end to the show he started.

As has been reported by various sources (ie. Vanity Fair), David Lynch hates Season 2 more than anyone else could, with the tousle-haired cinematic maverick having been quoted publicly as saying it flat out “sucked”.

david lynch smoking

Fans would have to wait until 2017 when Season 3 of Twin Peaks finally reached airwaves to see how things would get resolved, and many were likely hopeful that such a gut-wrenching finale would indeed see some sort of satisfying resolution, once Season 3 finally concluded.

Fans of Twin Peaks might have thought a positive outcome to be particularly imminent, considering this was David’s chance to right any directorial and plot-related wrongs done to the show throughout Season 2.

Well, did he?  To answer this question would take us well beyond the scope of this article, and so at this time, let’s now return to the topic of…The Bang Bang Bar, and the music we hear there throughout Season 3.

Back To The Bang Bang

One thing that seemingly had not changed much in the world of Twin Peaks was the Bang Bang Bar.

bang bang bar exterior

In the world of Twin Peaks: Season 3, it was still the place in Twin Peaks where various seedy drama and nefarious subplots play out.  But this time around, we’re treated to a variety of diverse musical acts.

It was as if the Bang Bang Bar was perhaps doing better business these days, busily booking more bands, and becoming an increasingly hipper place to be, which we, the viewers, we privy to seeing who would turn up week to week. For nostalgic fans, Julee Cruise and James Hurley both come back to the Bang Bang Bar to perform.

Otherwise, we were treated to some fresh faces at the good old Twin Peaks Roadhouse.

Cue: Au Revoir Simone, playing their tune, “A Violent Yet Flammable World”, from Season 3: Episode 9.

Au Revoir Simone

Some of the choices for bands who performed at the Bang Bang Bar during the run of Season 3 seemed to be more in line with the world of Twin Peaks that fans know, while other performers were more unexpected.

Au Revoir Simone, who perform on two episodes of the entire Season 3 run of the show , were at once a fitting, and yet somewhat unusual, choice.

au revoire simone

Why fitting?  Well, here we have, not 1, but 3 silky-voiced chanteuses playing ethereal, melancholic music in a slow, pulsating manner.  This is enough, perhaps, to qualify them as a good fit for the rather happening, and yet fictional, venue.

Why unusual?  It seems that in the intervening years between Seasons 2 and 3 of Twin Peaks, the always and forever-to-be stuck-in-the-past environs of the show have been forced to admit that yes, even in a seemingly timeless setting, time is passing.

Hence, Au Revoir Simone have their synths in tow, and there is no particular attention drawn to their synthpop nature.  Perhaps now Twin Peaks is a world that has caught up to as far as the 1980’s, rather than being a throwback to the ’50’s or ’60’s.

(The interview begins…)

Interview with Heather D’Angelo of Au Revoir Simone

heather d'angelo

It seems that curiosity got the better of me.  I felt the need to reach out to the bands who played at the Bang Bang Bar during the run of Twin Peaks: Season 3, in order to satisfy my fan-boyish urge to know more about these bands, and how they managed to appear on the show.

And so, here is my conversation with Heather D’Angelo, who is one third of Au Revoir Simone, discussing the bands’ appearance on the show and how it all came to pass.  Enjoy!


When did you start writing music?

Au Revoir Simone started out as a cover band, actually, working on covers of 80’s and 90’s songs from different genres.  We were just doing this for fun, as friends getting together and seeing how it went. 

Back in the early 2000’s, we (Annie Hart, Erika Forster, and I) used to jam together, when we were all living in Brooklyn, and decided to form an all-girl keyboard band, since all of us played keyboards and we thought that all of us playing synths would be pretty entertaining. Eventually, each of us was armed with multiple synths – sometimes we’d have 9 going at once!

As far as our covers went, it turned out that our covers were too idiosyncratic to be just covers – they had their own sound – so that gave us the notion to start doing our own songs.  And it all began there!

Eventually, we got enough material together for a little EP called Verses of Comfort, Assurance & Salvation.

Weirdly enough, a Japanese label and a British label picked up the EP, but we didn’t get any attention in the US – no one cared.

Funny thing was that the Japanese label had an english name – Rallye, and the English label had a Japanese-sounding name – Moshi Moshi

Moshi Moshi already were a well known indie label in England at this point, with bands like Hot Chip on their roster.  They were the ones that kind of operate on a new level, by saying “Ok, you guys are going to work with this PR company, etc.”, giving us tips on how to be a bit more professional.

So how did these labels come across your music, which then lead to your encounter with David Lynch?

They became aware of us through an indie music blog from the early days of the internet.

My good friend, Matthew Perpetua, is like the godfather of the music blogs. I think he actually had the very first music blog out there on the web in the late 90’s, called Fluxblog. There may have been one other one at the time, as these things tend to pop up in the zeitgeist at around the same time, but he was definitely one of the first.

Fluxblog was very popular for indie music and Moshi Moshi used to read his blog. Matthew used to write about our band when we first started, as he was a big fan of synthpop, and indie acts, and so Moshi Moshi read one of his features on us.

Steven Bass and Michael McClatchey then got a hold of our EP, which, at the time, was something we were screen printing ourselves in Annie’s bedroom and trying to distribute ourselves.

By the time we got to our first actual mature album, The Bird of Music, that was put out by both Rallye and Moshi Moshi, which had proper artwork and distribution. 

Listen to The Bird of Music on Spotify

The Bird of Music is what eventually ended up in the hands of David Lynch in 2007.

How did that come about?

There was a really cool event going on at Barnes & Noble in New York for some time, where they’d promote an author and then pair that author up with a band. 

A music supervisor for Barnes & Noble would seek out a band that they felt would match the author, and the author would do a reading from their new book, and a band would play during the reading, or between chapters.  It was pretty cool.

The music supervisor at Barnes & Nobles was trying to get us to do one of these events for some time, but it wasn’t working out, as we were always on tour, or the timing just wasn’t right.

But one day the music supervisor called and told us that David Lynch was promoting a new book, at the time, called Catching the Big Fish, and she thought that our music would pair really well with his work. 

 

catching the big fish

The book was about meditation, and she thought we could play some of our more dreamy material.

So we said “yeah”, because this time it worked with our schedules, and plus, it sounded really cool, so we did it!

But it wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for David’s sound supervisor, Dean Hurley, hadn’t heard our music, liked it, and passed it on to David, who also liked it.

So, we then met David at the actual Barnes and Noble event, where we played, and he read from his book.

(cue: a  short clip from that show in 2007)

This was the beginning of your collaboration…which would have been about 10 years before Twin Peaks: Season 3 aired.

Yes.  Back in 2007.

That’s pretty cool that you encountered him that way.  His output is very varied, so to connect with him on a book reading is very cool.  Were you aware of all of these things that he does at the time?  For example, the books, the albums, the artwork, and so forth.

We were aware of him, generally speaking, but we didn’t know just how many things he was involved with.

The event at Barnes & Noble was amazing.  That particular location of Barnes & Noble was something else – it was huge, like 4 or 5 storeys, and jam packed with people.  Just a massive, massive, MASSIVE building.

And when he was there, it was unbelievable – every floor, just shoulder to shoulder people, all trying to catch a glimpse of him.

For those who weren’t on the top floor, there was kind of a play-by-play being piped through their sound system, like one big listening party, and everyone was there just soaking it up.  It was then that we clued in to just how huge his fanbase actually is.

Were you into his stuff prior to this show?

Yeah, I really liked Blue Velvet, and his movies in general, but I wasn’t really a fanatic.  Same with Annie and Erika – we just knew of him, as most people do.  I had not watched Twin Peaks, though.  It just never crossed my radar.  I guess I was just too young.

I didn’t catch the show when it came out either, but a friend of mine recommended I watch Twin Peaks when I was in high school, so around ’95, as he thought it would be up my alley, and it was.  Had you seen any of his other movies?

Some of them.  I saw Mulholland Drive, which I enjoyed, and I was going to watch Inland Empire, but a friend of mine saw it and he was so traumatized by it, I didn’t really feel like watching it.

Yeah, Lynch seems to be very good at making very unsettling films that confuse and disturb people, as well as anticipating peoples’ expectations (especially fans) and then defying them.  I couldn’t make it through Inland Empire either!  That’s why I was wondering how Season 3 of Twin Peaks was going to turn out, considering his work seemed to be getting progressively more abstract.

Well, we have had the opportunity to collaborate with David several times over the years, since 2007, and so we were getting comfortable trusting his creative and aesthetic choices.  For instance, we worked with him on a retrospective he did for his work in Paris at the Foundation Cartier.

(cue: video clip from that exhibition)

(interview…continued) He had rebuilt a setting from Eraserhead at the gallery, and we were to perform in this setting.  So, he managed to incorporate our music into this production, and we were like, “Hell yeah!” and so we did it, and it was great!

Another time he invited us to play at Silencio, his private club in Paris.  Again, this is a beautiful club with a red-draped stage, and he was gracious enough to invite us into his world, which we have always been more than happy to do.

(cue: Llorando scene, from Mullholand Drive, filmed at Silencio)

(back to the interview…)

Over the years, we’ve remained friends, and would visit him in L.A., checking in from time to time.  He’s been very encouraging, incredibly sweet, and a great mentor to us.

Prior to the return of Twin Peaks, he was mentioning it would be good to work on something together, and we thought that would be great, although we weren’t counting on it.

We knew that historically, David has worked with Julee Cruise, Angelo Badalamenti, and so we weren’t really expecting to work on any major projects with him, per se.  He seemed to have his inner circle of collaborators, and so we thought it was nice of him to suggest a collaboration, but, again, we weren’t expecting anything.

But then, we got the call from Dean Hurley, David’s longtime musical collaborator, who informed us that David was going to re-launch Twin Peaks, and was seeking out bands to be part of the show, and he was hoping we’d take part.  Before we knew it, we’d said “yes” and we were part of the production.

We’d never really worked with David before in terms of being part of one of his movies, and so we didn’t really know what we were in for.

None of Au Revoir Simone were actors, but we flew to L.A., and we arrived at this house, that looked like a community center from the outside, and we found that they had recreated, in minute detail, the Bang Bang Bar.  It was like, “Oh my god, I’m in the Roadhouse!”  Even though, outside it was hot and sweaty, this set made you believe you were in the Pacific north west, like Washington state.  It was insane!

There were extras everywhere, and everyone was dressed up like it was the ’90’s.  There were a few other bands there, like the Chromatics, and the Cactus Blossoms, who were playing that day.

We had no idea what was going on.  We didn’t know who was playing, or when, or how to dress.  We had no guidance of what to wear, which was particularly odd because the fashion of Twin Peaks is so particular.  We didn’t know which decade we were supposed to appear to be from.  ’80’s? ’90’s? Now?  Rock stars, or not?  We didn’t know.  We decided to just go with a “classic” look.

We knew he was going to ask us to do two of our songs, which we did.  It was lip synched.  This wasn’t like Saturday Night Live.  We performed our songs, it didn’t take too long, and then we left.  Time passed, we didn’t hear anything at first.  Eventually, we heard from David, and he said “Great job!”, so we thought “Great!”

We were still very confused as to how this would all play out.  We still didn’t know if he was going to be using the footage of us playing, or just use our recordings on the soundtrack.  Would it be both songs, one song?  Just a snippet?

We didn’t see how any of it turned out until the show aired.  Eventually, we were told to keep our eyes open for Episodes 4 and 9.  We saw it on TV like everyone else.

(cue: band playing their song, “Lark”, from their album, “The Bird of Music”, during Season 3: Episode 4 of Twin Peaks.

(back to the interview…)

For both episodes, I had Twin Peaks’ parties in San Francisco, but I told my friends that if I didn’t show up on screen, not to be surprised.  We weren’t promised anything, so then when we did appear, and we had a fair bit of screen time, I was shocked!

Both songs were edited, but that made sense, for the purpose of the episode sequencing.  Still, it was entirely a surprise that we even made it on the show at all!

I guess you didn’t get to sit down and watch the “dailies”, huh?

No, we are not from the film industry, so that didn’t even occur to us.  There wasn’t even hair and make-up, so how we presented ourselves was completely up to us.  Had there been a hair dangling in the wrong spot, I don’t know if David would have brought it up or not.  It all happened so fast.

We had been on photo shoots before, where people fussed over our appearance a lot more than this instance.  So that’s surprising, that we were now committed to tape for an iconic show like Twin Peaks, which will be seen by our children and children’s children, and we weren’t really prepped in any way for this.  I just knew that we were performing, and David was there, behind the camera, capturing every bead of sweat.

Was the lip synching difficult?  What kind of direction did he give you?

We weren’t given any direction, so we just tried to channel our best collective Julee Cruise vibe.  We had basic instructions as to when to start lip synching, and that was about it.

You were saying there were other bands there at that point?

We saw some of the other bands, but we didn’t really see too many other bands.  For the most part, we were just in and out.  We heard there was a shoot for the other bands on another day, but we weren’t there for that.

Are any of you particularly influenced by Julee Cruise, what with the hushed, angelic vocals, and all that?  Were you told to emulate her in any way for the show?

No, not at all.  We are fans of hers, for sure – especially Erika – but there was no mention of us sounding like her, or us trying to sound like her.

Our influences are Stereolab, Bjork, Pavement, Air…Broadcast is a huge influence.  I personally am very into Air and Stereolab.

Pavement, really?

Definitely, I love Pavement.

Are you guys formally trained musically in any way?

No, we’re all self-taught.

How do you come up with your songs, as a band?

We all have input in each others songs, although usually, someone writes a song, initially, and brings it in.  That’s when we begin to shape the songs to fit Au Revoir Simone.  Nothing is really off limits for discussion, and it ends up being an equal process in the end.  No one has more representation in the band – it’s equal parts all three of us.

No creative differences?  Wow, nice.

There are differences, but as a trio, there can always be a critical voice if someone is strongly against something, and we like it that way.  We can push and pull the songs until we are all happy with the result, but it’s not always easy to come to a consensus.  For instance, if someone doesn’t like a bassline, or some other musical element, we talk about it, until we can all agree on something.

How do you feel now that you are on the Lynch fan radar?  Do you consider yourself to be on that radar?

Yes, we are aware that his fans are now paying more attention to us, with many of them being very passionate.  It’s cool.

And how has that balanced out with your entire fanbase overall?

Well, our old school fans are the best!  Like, if ever there’s any sort of hardcore Twin Peaks fans who don’t approve of us for some reason, our old school fans will jump to our defence.  It doesn’t happen much, and besides, that’s just how it is on Youtube.  People debate all the time.  For instance, why did we get picked for the soundtrack and not some other “dreamy” sounding pop band?  Maybe someone more like Julee Cruise should have been picked, some might say.  All in all, everyone has their own opinion.  We encourage discussion, and we appreciate different views.

Fair enough.  Did you bump into any other cast members at all while you were there filming?  I happened to watch some interview with Kyle MacLachlan, where he said that he didn’t even see any of the show until it was on the air, or really knew what was going to happen overall?  Kind of amazing, since he was basically the show’s star.

It doesn’t surprise me.  There’s an element of secrecy to all of this.  Plus, I think that everything was shot individually.  We didn’t really interact with the cast very much.

Did you talk to Mark Frost (Twin Peaks co-creator) at all?

twin peaks mark frost

No, I didn’t.

So you never read any of this Twin Peaks books – The Final Dossier or The Secret History of Twin Peaks?

the secret world of twin peaks

No, I’ve just heard of them.  Haven’t read them yet.

They’re interesting, if you are into the sort of “bigger picture” of Twin Peaks, and the mythology and sort of subterfuge that goes into the show.  They act as companion pieces, and they’re really cool if a fan wants to dive deeper into that world, as they let you in on some of the more secretive elements.  For any fans out there, I’d totally recommend them!  But anyway, what happened after Season 3 wrapped up.  What changed for Au Revoir Simone?

I have seen David twice since the show aired.  One at the Festival of Disruption in Brooklyn, and another time back in L.A., after Season 3 had aired.  When I saw him last, I had just watched all of the episodes of Season 3 and I had a million questions that I wanted to ask him.  So it was hard to not geek out on Twin Peaks and ask him lots of questions.  I did get a few things out of him, but generally, we didn’t talk about that much.

I did, however, mention to him how much I loved Episode 8, as it was so groundbreaking and probably the best thing to be aired on television ever.  I had a chance to dork out with Dean Hurley, but he really doesn’t have the inside scoop on Twin Peaks either.  No one but David and Mark know the whole story.  It’s always fun to speculate, though.

How did you feel about the ending of Season 3?

I liked it.  I am a fan of cliffhangers, though.  Besides, if you expect anything by David to wrap up with a neat little bow, you’ll probably be disappointed. So I didn’t expect the show to end in any neat and tidy way.  Which it didn’t.

twin peaks season 3 ending


(interview end…)

Check out Heather’s new fragrance line – Carta

Check out a list of all the music used in Twin Peaks: Season 3

The Sea Organ of Zadar – Unique Musical Instruments

There are several recreational activities that one can get involved with. The simple act of watching the sea has always been, and always will be, a popular pastime.   

There is a peace and joy that comes with sitting by the sea.  This alone takes away all your sorrows and worries away. 

Did you know there is a giant organ in Croatia called the Sea Organ of Zadar which harnesses the power of the sea, and creates music with it?  Witness the sound of the Zadar Sea Organ below.

WHAT IS THE ZADAR SEA ORGAN?

The sea organ of Zadar is a one-of-a-kind instrument that is located along the shores of the city of Zadar, in Croatia. 

This is the first pipe organ that is played by the sea, and by the sea we mean BY the sea.  The sea itself plays the organ.

It consists of simple steps with slightly curved white stones.  Underneath the steps, there are 35 tubes that are musically tuned and they have whistles on the sidewalk.

Musical chords are generated by the movement of the sea that pushes the air into the pipes. The type of chords produced will depend on the velocity and size of the waves.

The Zadar sea organ is created in such a way that there is harmony between the environment and the architecture.  Through this, the sea can communicate to nature as the musical sound that it produces can be heard by passers-by.  

SIMILAR INSTRUMENTS TO THE SEA ORGAN

There are other several instruments that are played by nature. These include the water organ, the hydraulophone, and the wave organ. 

The wave organ is a culture that was constructed in 1986 at the shore of San Fransico Bay.  This organ produces music depending on the strength of the tide.

In contrary to other pipe organs, the air column of the wave organ is constantly changing hence resulting in the varying pitch that is produced.

The difference between the sea organ and the wave organ is that the sea organ is very developed and it uses waves to produce a musical sound where else the wave organ uses tides.

Just like the wave organ and the sea organ, the water (waterfall) organ uses water as a power source for pushing the air that is used in producing the musical sound. In other instances instead of using natural power sources, manual pumps are used.  

Although these instruments belong to the same family, the pipe family and their mechanism of producing sound may be similar, the sea organ, by design, boasts an ingenious design that arguably outdoes all of these other instruments.

WHO INVENTED THE SEA ORGAN?

Zadar, the Croatian city dates back to the pre-historic times.  It is an ancient city.

The shorelines of this beautiful city were destroyed at the end of World War 2.

The years that followed were of rebuilding the lost landmarks as plain concrete blocks and the sea was not exempted from this. 

In order to restore back its former glory, an award-winning architect was brought. Nikola Basic was the architect that helped this city to restore its glory. 

Together with Dalmatian stone carvers, Professor Vladimir Andročec, a hydraulic consultant, and Goran Ježina, a pipe specialist, and Nikola Basic, they designed this masterpiece organ in 2005.

His inspiration was from the hydraulic (water organ) that was invented by the ancient Greeks.

It is through this organ that Nikola was offered another project by the city authorities: the greeting of the sun. 

Nikola then set a 22-meter pavement that is powered by the solar system.  The cells that are under the glass begin creating electricity that enables the disc to illuminate at dawn. 

At sunset, the cells are believed to have gathered enough energy that enables it to light the waterfront.

HOW DOES THE SEA ORGAN WORK?

The sea organ is 70 meters long and has 35 pipes that are underneath this concrete steps. The pipes are located in a way that the movement of the sea results in the production of musical chords from these pipes. 

Column air that is pushed by a column of water movement blows each pipe by a  plastic tube that is submerged in water. The apertures that are located in the uppermost stairs of the vertical planes generate the tuned musical sounds from the pipes.

Seven groups of musical tubes are interchangeably tuned to two cognate chords that are of the diatonic major scale. The pipes are of varying lengths and contain whistles that are built in them.  

Each of this organ pipe has its own chord and tubbing. Depending on your position on the steps, you can detect the changes that arise in the harmony and the sound. The random time and wave energy space distribution to each organ results in the played chords.  

In order for the sea organ to be transformed into a musical instrument, it has air holes that enable it to breathe in air. Air and water flow in through the lower steps.

The air and water that flows through the lower steps are then funnelled to the chamber that is located beneath.  The air and the water then leave through the upper stairs. 

The chime-like, beautiful and undiluted notes are then produced as a result of this. One of the most interesting facts about this instrument is that the sound is always different.

This is because the sea is always changing hence the same sound cannot be produced twice. The effect of the sea organ can be described as hypnotic. 

This will entirely depend on the conditions of the weather or any other force such as a ferry passing nearby hence strongly pushing the water into the pipes. 

With this, you will realize that the intensity of the music of the sea organs keeps on fluctuating.

THE SEA ORGAN AS A TOURIST ATTRACTION

The installation of the sea organ is very unique and has made the inhabitants of Zadar feel proud. This is a natural musical instrument that is played by the sea.

After the destruction of the major landmarks in Zadar after the second world war, the people of Zadar did not have much contact with the sea.   

The construction of the sea organ was to restore the relationship that the inhabitants of Zadar had with the sea.  The construction of this organ has made it a major tourist attraction site.

Until you’ve heard it yourself, it is difficult to believe that the sea can play music that will excite your body and soul like this.

It is only when you stroll in the western embankment of Zadar that your ears will catch the strangest and beautiful sound that is floating on air as you are approaching the end of the Penisula.  You will then notice a lot of people either lying or sitting on the lapped stairs that are located along the shoreline.

Every note that is produced by the sea organ is unpredictable yet harmonious. This is as a result of the arrangement of the well-tuned organ tubes. Just a single move through the sea organ and there is a drastic change in harmony. It is like several musicians are producing the harmonies from beneath your feet.

For a number of people that love adventure and new experiences, the sea organ in Zadar is there number one list in their adventure list. This is probably a must go place for every tourist.

Some would argue that the sound that this organ produces is annoying and creepy.  But it’s your experience with this organ that will make you understand your connection with the surrounding environment.

The combination of both the organ and the sea waves are so soothing to your heart and mind.

Lying on the grass that is in the park that is behind the sea organ or sitting or lying on the steps either dozing or meditating is one of a kind experience that you would regret missing it!

The Pyrophone – Weird and Unusual Musical Instruments Series

 At some point in your life, you have probably heard or listened to notes that sounded like an explosion or something close to rapid combustion or rapid heating, made by some synthesizer perhaps.

As we all know, a musician that performs with talent or fervour have always been described with words such as burning it up or they are on fire! These words are not meant to be taken literally…in most cases.

The human mind has always been fascinated with fire since humans started messing around with it, 100 000 + years ago.

Sometimes music is accompanied by instruments that are on fire! Music and fire are inseparable.  

Many types of instruments are considered to be on fire but they can never beat the pyrophone. 

The name of this most weird and unusual musical instrument can tell you that the music that you will hear that accompanies the pyrophone will be on fire.  Fire?  Yes, actual fire!

If you’ve never seen a pyrophone in action, here is what it looks and sounds like.

Why the name “pyrophone”?

The name pyrophone means fire-sound. Am sure you are wondering how the fire sound comes about.  The fire sound is made by applying combustion to the pyrophone pipes. 

Differences may have risen over the years between the earliest pyrophone and the modern pyrophone.  The early pyrophone worked similarly to the steam calliopes that were powered by an internal combustion generator.

The modern pyrophone is a bit advanced, and it uses the explosion technology.

Who invented the pyrophone?

Frederic Kastner is believed to have invented the pyrophone in 1873.

What drove Frederic into developing the pyrophone?  The pyrophone was just like any traditional musical instrument were pipes were encased with flames as a way of producing musical notes. 

Having understood the mechanism by which hydrogen produces a sound, he began his invention on the fire organ, Frederic had gained this knowledge of the hydrogen sound by the discovery of Dr. B. Higgins.

This discovery had taken place in 1777 where Dr. Higgins discovered that a note could be produced if a hydrogen flame was placed at the lower end of a tube or a glass.  

The sound produced is as a result of the reaction between the hydrogen and the atmospheric oxygen.

In addition to this, Frederic was also had the skills and knowledge about music. It is assumed that he had gained this knowledge of music from his father Georges Kastner who was a composer.

The combination of the musical knowledge and Dr. Higgins’ discovery had a significant impact on the invention of the pyrophone.

The invention and acceptance of an instrument into the market is not as easy as you may think, or maybe you assumed something like this would not be easy, and then you’d be right.

You do not wake up one day and decide to invent an instrument and the next thing you are recognized for your invention. The invention of anything is a process.

Sadly, the invention of Frederic Kastner was not a great success.

Since Frederic was not a recognized physicist, the connections that Kastner’s family had made a significant impact in bringing acknowledgement to the pyrophone.

Frederic’s mother was a wealthy and influential person in society. With the thoughts of keeping Frederic away from any kind of mischief, she had encouraged him to continue developing the pyrophone as a way of keeping him busy.

Here below is another pyrophone in action.

Henry Dunant, a founder of the Red Cross and also an acquaintance of Kastner’s mother, took a commission from Kastner’s mother to take with him the pyrophone abroad.

Being a social activist, Henry had the eloquence, the social connections and the persuasive skills that would enable him to promote the pyrophone.

In February 1875, Henry secured a chance at the Royal Society of Arts that enabled him to present the pyrophone. The melancholy, the vibration of the eco and the mysterious and passionate sound that the pyrophone produces is remarkable and cannot be ignored!

To our utter disappointment, even with the extra marketing that Henry had done, the pyrophone was not a success. Henry noticed that the pyrophone had started malfunctioning and ended up donating it to the South Kensington Museum.

In 1882, Frederic died, and Henry had already moved on with various projects that had come his way.

With no one to focus on the pyrophone development, the pyrophone fame began disappearing slowly.  A number of attempts have been made to reincarnate the pyrophone, but the insanity and elegance that came with the pyrophone cannot stay matched.

What kind of music was written with the pyrophone?

After the pyrophone organ was invented, some musicians had visited Frederic just to have an experience with this incredible instrument.

Hector Berlioz, a French renown composer, also visited Frederic.

Although the welcoming of the pyrophone was not a great one, musicians and composers, who understood what a useful musical instrument meant sought after the pyrophone.

Among the many other composers who visited Frederic, Charles Gounod had made a consideration of using the pyrophone in Jeanne d’Arc production. 

The only composer who wrote music that was specifically for the pyrophone is Theodore Lack. This included Saving the Queen and Arrangement of God.

Construction of the pyrophone

Taking into consideration that the pyrophone sound is dependent on the flame, the construction process must be taken seriously. 

The general appearance of the pyrophone is a keyboard that is connected to a metal pipe or glass, and it is hooked to a console.

Depending on the sound that you want the pyrophone to produce, the pyrophone can be heated directly using a flame or the flame is controlled through a mechanism that is computerised.  The sound produced range from clear to steady to discordant. 

What are the sources of fuel for the pyrophone?

Propane is the primary source of fuel for the pyrophone.  Gasoline can also be used as a source of fuel for the pyrophone. This can be achieved through the building of mobile units that are powered by gasoline.

Often the hydrogen pyrophones are constructed using test tubes that are upside down. This tubes act as the combustion chambers. 

During Frederic time, the proper colours were not attained but with the addition of salt, this can be achieved in the modern days.

Pyrophone Juggernaut

I don’t think you would want to miss listening to one of the largest pyrophones. The contraption alone leaves you mesmerized. This is the world’s most massive hand operated octave fire organ.

Visit: https://pyrophonejuggernaut.com/ for more info and tour dates! (yes tour dates)

This flame fueled organ is constructed using copper, aluminium and steel. This pyrophone was built after 250 years of experimental experience. It is an instrument that breathes fire!

You might have taught that the human imagination had reached its peak, you are wrong. The human mind has no limits when it comes to creativity, and this is particularly true when it comes to strange instruments, and things that spew flames. 

Humans always have, and always will get a kick out of flames that spew forth.  And so do ducks, apparently.

With whatever that is around you, given you have the ability to think, you can create various unique things.

Though Frederic pyrophone did not gain much fame, the recent Pyrophone Juggernaut has struck the mind of many.

The pyrophone will always remain to be that one original instrument that breathes fire to music, and that’s something you can never take away from it!

The Controversial History Of The Banjo

History can be a hard thing to discuss, because, inevitably, you probably weren’t there to see the events unfold as they did.

This is especially true when we’re talking about the history of one particular musical instrument with a somewhat checkered past – the banjo.

The banjo, as we know it, dates back 400 or so years to the Carribean in the 1600’s, when and where it was first documented.

By documented, I am referring to the only way anything way typically was documented centuries before now, and that is to say – in books, by way of either sketches or more detailed drawings, since cameras weren’t yet invented.

Sir Hans Sloane – First Documented Picture of a Banjo

For instance, here is an image taken from a travel journal from 1707 by Sir Hans Sloane, called “A Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica”.

This shows the first documented image of what appears to be a banjo, or something like it, in the Carribean isles.

It should be noted that the book from which this picture was taken, was based on events that occurred in 1687, and then transcribed into book form in the 1700’s.

Sir Hans Sloane was a noted Irish physician, and his purpose in the Carribean was to assist the new Governor of Jamaica, the second Duke of Albemarle, as his personal physician.

While visiting the islands, he collected plants for study and also documented other things.  He also invented drinkable chocolate (chocolate milk), so you have him to thank for that, apparently.

As you can see from the drawings in his documents of the islands around Jamaica, these “banjos”, as it were, didn’t really resemble the banjos of today.  This is because they weren’t, strictly speaking, banjos.

These instruments were, at the time of documentation by Hans Sloane, considered to be simply the instruments the peoples of the Carribean were playing at the time, and in the text you can see them referred to as “lutes”.

One of the defining characteristics of a banjo, which is present in the above example, is the drum-like body.

I should mention that, around this time in history (mid-1600’s), there were dozens of variations of stringed instruments that all appeared slightly different.

With the increasingly large migration patterns of people in 1600’s, it was certainly a difficult task to document what each was called, and what unique traits each one possessed.

Stringed instruments themselves date back 40 000 years, so it’s not as though stringed instruments themselves were new.  Humans have been playing stringed instruments for thousands of years.

Plucked lutes, in particular, have been documented in Mesopotamia from around 6000 years ago.

Today the word banjo is loosely defined as: A stringed musical instrument (chordophone) with a round body, a membrane like soundboard and a fretted neck, played by plucking or strumming the strings.

The origin of the word “banjo” can be traced back to several places, including “banja” from Jamaica, “banza” from Brazil, and mbanza from Angola.

I’ve also seen the word “banjo”, used as a verb, meaning “to beat” or “to hit”.  As in, “He banjoed that guy in the face.”  This usage is, apparently, of British decent.  I don’t believe it is commonly used nowadays, but only the Brits know this for sure.

Where Did The Banjo Instrument Originally Come From?

Although the first documented picture of what could be considered a banjo dates back to the 1600’s in the Carribean islands (ie.(the one at the top of this article), this doesn’t mean banjos were “invented” in the Carribean.

Again, if we define a banjo as a stringed instrument with several strings and a drum-like surface, we can trace its origins back even further, and to other continents.

There are many popular perceptions surrounding precisely where the banjo originated, and there are logical reasons for each of these presumptions.

For example, most people who live in North America don’t think first of the Carribean as the birthplace of the banjo.  To some of us living in North America, suggesting that the banjo came from the Carribean doesn’t really sound accurate, and I think this is understandable.

The more dominant association that Westerners, I think, tend to recognize between the banjo and a particular geographic location, links the banjo, at least in the Westernized mind, to the southern United States.

This is a fair guess, as much of the lore, not to mention the majority of the popular media from the past 50 years, associates the banjo with styles of music that originated in the southern U.S., such as bluegrass, dixieland, and country music.

In addition, southern banjo players have been prominently been featured on various television shows and movies over the past 50 or so years, and that leads many of us to simply assume that banjo must come from the southern U.S., not the Carribean, as most research points to quite clearly.

Indeed, I’d say that there is a deep association between the instrument we call the “banjo” and states in the U.S. which are considered to be Appalachian.

Appalachian states include: West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

In turn, the history of Appalachian culture traces back to Scotland, Ireland, and Germany, when those peoples moved to North America and began living there in the 1800’s.  And so, there are those who might guess that the banjo may have come from these countries, originally.

For example, it would seem fairly logical to think that the banjo may have come from Ireland, where the banjo is still popular today, when Irish peoples migrated into the mysterious and mountainous Appalachian rural regions, when the potato famine and general starvation prompted them to leave their homeland.

As many of us are aware, there are various stigmas attached to the idea of the someone who is from Appalachia, both good and bad, which I need not elaborate on here.

Suffice it to say, Appalachian peoples are considered to be of the land, and there is certainly a connotation that links banjo playing to a more rural type of folk.

In other words, an impoverished people, and this is fact is very much line with the reputation of previous peoples who played the banjo in past decades, where they were of a lower caste.

Here is that famous scene from the movie Deliverance, featuring the classic “dueling banjos” bit, although one “banjo” is clearly a guitar.

The interesting thing about the boy from Deliverance, Lonnie, who was presumably chosen for this unusual appearance (the book depicts an albino negro), is that he didn’t even know how to play the banjo, nor was he recruited from the backwoods of northern Georgia.

This next clip interviews the “boy” himself (now in his 50’s), played by Billy Redden, where he talks more about his role in the movie and his lack of skill on the instrument.

The clip also includes an interview with Ronny Cox (who played Drew Ballinger) talking about the cultural significance of the famous banjo scene, as being one of the defining movie moments of all time.

As more research is done about the history of the banjo, an interesting but rather dark narrative began to emerge from the gloaming of the past.

All that is needed to put this in perspective is a proper view of history and the slave trade in the 1600’s, which historians, by this point, have illustrated rather conclusively, to the point where any educated person would have trouble refuting it.

When it comes to the banjo’s true origins, all research points to it originating from Africa.  Specifically, countries such as Senegal or The Gambia (ie. Senegambia), which were the focus of the slave trade.

The original picture which I shared at the beginning of this article, from 1707, shows a version of the banjo that does not yet appear in its modern form.

Banjos made from gourds

When the banjo was beginning to catch on in the Carribean, it still showed some evidence of its past where it was fashioned sometimes out of gourds, serving as a shell for the body.  This was then attached to its characteristic long neck, and strings were added.

Before banjos took on the appearance we know them to have today, with a circular body shaped that almost looks like a snare drum, their precursors from Africa were often made from different materials than were available in the Americas in later centuries.

Here is a reproduction of a colonial era banjo made with a gourd for a body.  As you can see, this has influences of a style of instrument popular in Africa over the centuries.  At the same time, you can see how this instrument below does have characteristics of the modern banjo.

Next, we have an image of a banjo that seems to bridge the gap, between a banjo body made out of a gourd, and one that more resembles a wider circular drum.

Even though it still has a primitive look, like it wasn’t “professionally” built, this banjo begins to take on a more “modern” shape.

The image most of us conjure up when someone says the word “banjo”, was not yet in existence in 1707, and wouldn’t be for at least 100 years.

Here is an old banjo from the 1900’s.  By this time, banjos were fully Americanized, one might say.  It has the modern fretboard, the modern tuning pegs, and the unmistakable body and neck shape.

To reach its modern form, history would have to wait until the late, great, and controversial Joel Sweeney came along in the 1830’s and “invented” it, or so it has been said.

Joel Sweeney, “Inventor” of the 5-String Banjo

Joel Walker Sweeney was a popular minstrel performer from the first half of the 19th century hailing from Virginia, who was perhaps the first popular white man to famously play the instrument.  At the same time, he was said to have been taught by African Americans, which is partly why he could play so good.

Joel Sweeney has been credited with raising the profile of the banjo from an instrument associated with the unwashed masses, and bring it up to a level of sophistication which could be eventually be accepted, and then firmly embraced by the middle class.

Claiming that Joel Sweeney somehow single handedly raised the stature of banjo playing on a global level is almost too ludicrous to say, but it may in fact ultimately be true.

The reason the claim is contentious, is because Joel Sweeney was not just a talented performer who ended up making the banjo more famous because of his adept abilities on the instrument.  He certainly was that, but that was only part of how Joel Sweeney shined the spotlight on the banjo, and “brought it” to the higher societal castes, as it were.

Here is a book on Joel Walker Sweeney, if you are interested in getting the full story on the man and what he did for the banjo.

The Birth Of The Banjo: Joel Walker Sweeney And Early Minstrelsy

Buy On Amazon

It is more accurate to say, I think, that Joel Sweeney was a multi-talented circus performer who, according to rumour, played the instrument with his feet, while fiddlin’ with his hands, and then playing mouth harp all at the same time, when the mood hit him.

He was also highly skilled at imitating animals, as one of his primary talents for which he was known.  Basically, the guy was just a son of a gun who was, by all accounts, very entertaining to everyone who happened to catch his performances.

His influence spread as he and his troupe toured America, as well as Europe, and even played for Queen Victoria in 1843.  He then went on and played and showed off his formidable banjo playing skills with his brothers, called Old Joe’s Minstrels.

Joel Sweeney’s influence on the popularity of the banjo cannot be underestimated.

The controversy, which occurs more in retrospect than it did at the time it happened, comes now from the fact that Joel was a blackface performer, a practice which is now practically forbidden in Western society today.

To be specific, blackface is the theatrical practice where non-black performers painted themselves up to look “black” with greasepaint, burnt cork, or shoe polish.

The last time we saw people performing in blackface wasn’t all that long ago.  One more recent instance was The Black and White Minstrel Show from 1978.

Consider this – slavery didn’t end until 1865, with the introduction of the 13th Amendment, which declares: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Of course, it is not difficult to see the connection between the racial stereotypes that blackface seemed to promote, and the mistreatment of blacks through the centuries.  In fact, the idea of the old style minstrel show, complete with blackface, is a quick reminder to many people, to this day, of the existence of slavery, and various caricatures of black culture.

Of course, where you had minstrel shows in the 17th century, onward, you had blackface, and so then you had banjos.  Banjos, the instrument which was beginning to see acceptance worldwide, and detaching itself from various prejudices of the times, was still very much embroiled in what I can only call “racism”.

It is understood that, in the context of the times, minstrel shows were quite normal.  Then again, so was slavery.

Perhaps the most famous blackface performer people know today is Al Jolson, who was the highest paid entertainer back in the 1920’s and was, at the time, proclaimed “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” at one time.

Al Jolson, although he didn’t play the banjo himself, helped popularize one of the most well known banjo songs ever – Oh Susanna.

To me, this song represents, in large part, why the banjo is thought to come from the southern U.S., as the lyrics reflect this, and the song is maybe the best known banjo tune of all time.

As you can see above, Al Jolson used blackface makeup, which he often did.

This practice of blackface dated back to, reportedly, the 1400’s, but had become very popular in colonial America at the time in the 1800’s.  There are many pictures of blackface performers holding or playing banjos.

The association between minstrels wearing blackface makeup and the banjo itself is a strong one, but I don’t say this to indict the banjo as being part of the history of racism, even though it essentially is a part of that history.  That said, you can’t really “blame” an instrument for anything, can you?

Of course, there’s no denying that the banjo probably wouldn’t have made it to the Carribean, to be used by slaves in the Americas, had it not been brought across the seas along with the thousands of slaves who played similar instruments, and who were sold to slavers at the time, in the 1600’s, when the trade was in full swing.

It is worth mentioning that at this time, the banjo was not called a “banjo.”   I mentioned some of the other names of the banjo that were used previously, but, back in 1687, when Sir Hans Sloane was travelling in the Carribean, writing his now-famous journals, he referred to the instrument as the “strum strump”.  Nice name!

Akonting

In these African communities in Senegambia, from which slaves were being captured and brought to the Americas by the thousands, there was (and still is) an instrument known as the akonting, which is said to be the precursor to the modern banjo.

Other African instruments said to be precursors of the banjo include the ngoni and xalam, but for now I’ll focus on the akonting, a hide-covered instrument said to be the most similar to the banjo.

The akonting (also known as the ekonting to the Jola tribes who first created them) is a strummed folk lute style of instrument which is similar to a banjo, traditionally made with a gourd for a body, along with two strings for melody, plus one drone string played with the thumb.  This makes the akonting similar to a 5-string banjo.

The akonting can be traced back to the village of Kanjanka, Senegal.  It can be tuned in different ways, similar to a 5-string banjo, and its tuning, called kanjanka, equates to kan (5th note of a scale), jan (root note of a scale), and ka (the flatted 7th), or 5/1/-7.

Here is a picture of a Jola village, the originators of the akonting / ekonting instrument.

Up next, we have a man named Daniel Jatta, playing a tune written by his father on the akonting in the traditional style.

The downstroke style here, called “o’teck” or “to strike”, is very similar in style to the very first banjo styles in the Americas, the “stroke style”, which was a precursor to the clawhammer or frailing style.

While all of this seems very plausible, that the akonting was brought over to the Americas by slaves, and that is the instrument upon which the modern banjo was based, there is still some controversy around this topic, making it unclear at which point exactly what happened during those harrowing years when the slaves were brought to the Americas.

Banjos on the Plantations

By 1807, there were over 3 million African slaves in the Americas, where they harvested crops like tobacco, sugar, and cotton.

Once the slaves were living in the Americas, they lived on the plantations, worked, and, above all else, suffered.  For a more detailed history of what this was like, go here.

As much as the African slaves suffered, their music never left them, and they looked for opportunities to express it, as anyone would.

Although they basically were brought here with nothing, the African slaves were eventually able to have some small respite from their masters, at first through the singing of gospel music, which is something that was impossible to take from them completely and helped them cope.

Then, if they were able, they would produce the occasional musical instrument that they were able to build by hand.

This is where their memories of their favourite native African instruments came back to them, and they were able to make these banjo-esque instruments, in order to accompany their singing, and put voice to their struggle.

That is, if their cruel slave masters allowed it.  Some plantation owners certainly did not accommodate their wishes, regardless of how modest they were.

Here is a recent “lynching memorial” erected in Montgomery, Alabama.

William Boucher

In the midst of the tumult that was America in the 1800’s, due to slavery, wars, and other factors, a Baltimore man named William Boucher was busy building instruments, including drums and minstrel banjos.  He was the first ever commercial maker of banjos in the U.S.A.

Here is a video which shows a replica of a Boucher banjo being played.  Not surprisingly, there’s a little Oh Susanna thrown in for good measure.

You can still purchase original builds of these banjos, although they will can cost upwards of $10 000 nowadays.

Conclusion

While there is plenty more to say about the development of the banjo up through the years, I think it’s alright to stop here.

As we know, the banjo went on to become an instrument that is a major part of the broader musical landscape around the world.

Despite its confusing and controversial history, I can say that in 2018, if a young person wants to learn the banjo, they can do so without having to ponder all of the heavier historical baggage that comes along with it and just enjoy the music.

That said, sweeping history under the rug is never a wise thing to do, especially when we know some of the facts.

The Rise of the MP3 – Internet Audio Files That Changed the Music Industry

As an avid music listener and maker, it has been interesting to look back through the history of music availability and the changing formats in which music has been presented. 

With the advent of internet and computers especially into the 1990s, it introduced an entirely new way of storing music. 

There are two different categories of music file formats: lossless and lossy. Lossless, as you may surmise, indicates a file format that retains the original quality of the music whether it came from vinyl, CD, et cetera.

This includes AIFF, made by Apple, WAV, a universal format, FLAC, ALAC and APE. Most of these are uncompressed file formats, meaning there is no loss in quality or detail from the original music. 

Lossy refers to a slightly lower quality file format that is designed to save storage space, which leaves you, the listener, with more room for more music.

However, you will notice a significant difference in sound quality. This is because lossy file formats (MP3, AAC, et cetera) are typically compressed in order to make them smaller.

What matters in these formats is bit rate. If you’ve a file with a high bi trate then you won’t notice much difference, if any, between this and lossless files. 

What is an MP3?

MP3 is one of the most – if not THE most – popular file format available. It is a form of codec (COmpressing and DECompressing data).

Sometimes when people download music they look specifically for the MP3 format because it is so ubitiquitous and therefore well known, and some of us believe it is the only file format out there. Since it’s so popular, other formats like APE or FLAC can look rather daunting or untrustworthy. 

MP3 refers to a mass-produced file format that lacks proper and due quality, but people still love it. 

Its name, MP3, is short for MPEG 1 layer 3. It is an audio-coding technology that takes the information from CDs (and others), compresses the information into tiny files suitable for Internet transferring and computer storage.

This way, the music does not take up much space, allowing the user to download or copy as many songs as they please. Mostly these came from CDs.

CDs contain digital files too, but one song can be up to 40 megabytes in size, and that is a lot of space when you take into consideration a full-length CD multiplied by your entire collection.

Think of it this way: one minute of CD quality audio sound takes up about 10 megabytes. This is for full-resolution files.

The MP3 file would take up about 3.5 megabytes instead, making the files eleven times smaller. That’s quite a significant change and you can imagine the bits of detail that may get quashed during the process, since there just isn’t room for it.

However, MP3, like other lossy formats, are built on the theory that the human ear doesn’t really pick up much information to begin with, therefore it’s not even worth coding in.

In addition to allowing for more storage on your personal computer, MP3 files, being so much smaller, can be downloaded in ten minutes instead of several hours. It is important to note that once the files are compressed, the lost data is lost forever.

The sharing of music and MP3 downloading was, in 1999, as popular as people searching for sex online. 

When was the MP3 invented? 

The MP3 was developed in the late 1980s and used in the early 1990s. It was nearly abandoned, considered a dead format by 1995. It was replaced by the AAC format in 1996, a format that could get around technical limitations imposed on the MP3.

Initially the MP3 was used for sports sites. The internet however really took off in the 1990s, with tons of websites popping up that were dedicated solely to pirated music and file sharing. Remember Napster?

The MP3 was named in popular press in 1997 and fully reborn by 1999. Technicolor and Fraunhofer IIS are the companies behind it. A lot of people had computers and internet service at this time.

The MP3 subsequently appeared for those who wanted to use the Internet as a new and powerful tool to share their creative works with others. It was a fast and easy way of sharing music with people all over the world. 

Its rise in popularity

When MP3 websites were first available, it was a lot of college and university students sharing files of bootlegged albums with each other since they lacked the funds to purchase CDs.

However, these young people also had passionate interest in lesser known artists and the internet was the perfect place for them to both find and share new musicians.

The very first MP3 player was the MPman, released in 1998, and then Apple soon joined the market in 2001 with iTunes and the iPod.

This meant an entirely new relationship of music and listener. The same file could be shared by thousands of people anywhere in the world, just by the click of a button, whereas previously, a cassette, vinyl or CD physically belonged to a person, and they could only share it at home with friends or family.

This also meant that people now had access to an infinite library of music. You could download another person’s entire music collection and there was no more worrying about returning CDs or scratching someone’s vinyl.

And, because people had access to nearly anything they wanted, they could acquire much more music in a shorter amount of time.

For example, instead of buying your favourite band’s new CD once a year, you could have thousands and thousands of new songs and artists to check out, all within a matter of days.

While some artists saw the amazing potential in the MP3 and this newfound ability to share music with a global audience like never before, many feared the MP3 and foresaw problems with copyright and a loss of rights for the artists or producers.

For those artists who did see the potential with the MP3, they found they could share bits of music that didn’t make it onto the album, or tease their fans with hints of new songs.

This was a bonus not just for the artist but also the diehard fans, who would appreciate tidbits of unreleased material, as a way of accessing virtually everything their favourite artists had created rather than enjoying the final cut of an album.

Record companies, being the mega-capitalists they are, with money as their bottom line, were not so jazzed about the MP3 and would beg their artists not to share the music for free.

They preferred to instead wait until they had figured out a way to make the fans pay to hear these tidbits or unreleased songs. This would force the listener/fan to not only pay to download the song, but that the file would have a limitation of number of plays before the listener had to pay again to download another file for the same song.

Of course, the smart ones would have burned everything onto CDs before the files expired.

Everyone from ultra-popular Beastie Boys to lesser known artists saw the MP3 as a way to reach the world if they couldn’t afford a tour or didn’t have a record deal. Before the days of internet music file sharing and MP3s, how were these smaller bands to get their music heard?

They would, like record companies, release a song for free to titillate the audience and then release a full album that the audience would then purchase.

MP3s are especially favoured by smaller bands and independent artists who are looking for new and exciting ways to get their music out there in the world.

If you’ve ever recorded an album or toured as musician you will know it’s very expensive to rent studio time and to then produce music and release it.

For musicians who are not signed to record labels, it is a lot easier and more affordable to record music in home studios and upload it as MP3s, which fans or listeners would find on MP3.com, one of the first major file transfer websites.

Digital distribution allows the artist to keep a much higher percentage of the sale price, too, and allow artists greater control over distribution. The MP3 file format is truly a revolutionary tool in the music industry, allowing artists to take over from the bottom up. 

However, despite all its benefits, there have been some downsides. 

Where it is now

When MP3s first came out, back in 1999 (that’s nearly 20 years ago), things were different. There was only dial-up internet. MP3s were made for dial-up internet when everything could be shared across the globe but took a lot longer than it does today.

Some artists and record companies blame the MP3 for killing the music industry, but other musicians, like Radiohead or Amanda Palmer, for example, have taken the cue and separated from their record companies; preferring to instead release their music independently, online, and letting listeners pay whatever they want, whether it’s ten cents or twenty dollars.

Today there are many, many online file sharing websites like Spotify and Apple Music. You can buy songs on iTunes for a dollar.

It really shows how music providers and artists have changed with the times, listening to the demands of the public and offering them what they want. The quality of these files is incredibly good; you just need good speakers to play them.

Of course, there are still websites where you can download music for free, and there are still record companies and musicians releasing their work through them.

And the public are still buying them.

There’s one thing online files will never have: the physical experience of interacting with music. The booklets, the artworks, the cover themes and fonts. The CD that sits like a book on a shelf with a title on its spine that you recognize immediately and pull out.

It is that very immersive and real experience that comes with physical music that you would never experience with downloaded files, and so many of us music appreciators tend to be artistic and exploratory folk.

We say immersive because it is so rewardingly consuming to sit down with your favourite record, pull out the booklet, read the lyrics, study the artwork while the music plays: to be immersed in that full experience designed intimately from the artist to the listener. 

In conclusion, we don’t hate MP3’s.  They were invented for a reason, and in the big picture, they serve a purpose or two, so why treat them with disdain?

Celestion Ten 30 Guitar Speaker Review

Finding a good guitar tone comes down to many things. You will need a good guitar, a good amp and a good set of guitar pedals if that is what you like to use. If not, the first two items should do the trick. This sounds about right? You can go one step further.

What most guitar players tend to forget is that the speakers in their amps or guitar cabs are important as well. These are what give your tone that specific color.

If there is one brand of speaker manufacturers out there who has gained a lot of trust from the community over the years, it is Celestion.

Today we are going to look at one of their entry level speakers – the Celestion Ten 30 – and talk about how it can improve your tone.

Lets see why Billy Gibbons and so many other legends trust Celestion with their tone.


Celestion Ten 30 Review

Celestion Ten 30 8 Ohm 10-Inch 30-Watt Guitar Speaker

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The story of Celestion is a long one and includes a whole lot of chapters. They started out at the very beginning of the 20th century and have almost a hundred years of speaker manufacturing behind them.

When you show up with that kind of experience and knowledge, the market is bound to react one way or another. Being a British brand, Celestion’s journey to the legendary levels of popularity began when Marshall started using their speakers in their cabs.

Here’s the thing, though. Celestions don’t come in every guitar amp. In fact, you rarely find them these days if you take Marshall and Vox out of the equation.

So how do you access that awesome sound without owning these brands of amps? Simple, just get yourself a set of Celestion speakers.

Since most of their Greenbacks and similar 12 inch units tend to be quite expensive, we have decided to show you something that is much more attainable for most guitar players. Celestion Ten 30 is a great speaker that won’t break your bank account.


Design and Features

When it comes to design, there is nothing too outstanding about Ten 30. Celestion has used their standard steel harness which has been proven to be a good choice in the past.

One benefit of taking that route is the fact that the diameter of the harness as well as the position of the holes matches most standard cabinets.

The only thing to consider is that this is a 10″ unit so it won’t fit into a cab designed for 12″ drivers without some modification. With that said, the build quality of the harness is great.

This is the type of setup that reduces, or should we say eliminates any movement or wiggling once mounted. What that translates to is low vibration and low noise during use.

The magnet itself is a standard Celestion ceramic unit. This particular model is a 8 Ohm version, although a 16 Ohm is also available. Naturally, you would get the one that matches your amp.

When it comes to the frequency range Ten 30 covers, you are looking at 85-5000Hz range. As you can probably tell it digs into the lows quite well.


Performance

With all that said, lets talk about how this thing sounds. After all, that is what matters the most in the end. In an effort to be as unbiased as possible, lets just say that it sounds like a true Celestion.

That doesn’t mean that there are no flaws to this particular design. One of the things Celestion speakers are known for is their warmth. We won’t say that Ten 30 lacks that warmth completely but it is also nowhere near as warm as a vintage Greenback.

On the other hand, you would expect as much considering the sheer price differential between these two speakers. The overall sonic profile tends to be biased towards mids and trebles.

That much is proven simply by looking at the frequency response charts.

The real question is what kind of real world consequences does all of this have? Before we go any further lets just put this out there. If your amp is a budget one, putting one or two of these in there will give you a proper boost in performance.

That is just a fact of the matter. Pushing such a setup with a good overdrive pedal will yield a very recognizable tone. Even though this is an entry level Celestion, it still has the combined heritage of many generations of Greenbacks and other legendary speakers behind it.

What we are trying to say is that in the midst of that overdrive tone, you will easily recognize that true Celestion grit which many of us have learned to appreciate.

In case you are leaning more towards a clean sound, this speaker will still offer a great performance. Despite its inherent lack of warmth, Celestion Ten 30 is easily warmer than most factory speakers being installed in modern amps.

In a way, a set of Celestion Ten 30s is a great way of familiarizing yourself with the brand and learning just what kind of tone is possible should you decide to go for one of the more expensive models in their offer. In that context, Ten 30 is a really great choice.

 


Fender Frontman 10G Electric Guitar Amplifier

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Fender Acoustasonic 15 – 15 Watt Acoustic Guitar Amplifier

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Marshall Code 50-50-Watt 1X12″ Digital Combo Amp

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Blackstar Electric Guitar Mini Amplifier, Black (Fly3)

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Orange Amps Electric Guitar Power Amplifier,

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Final Thoughts

At the end of the day the whole deal behind Celestion Ten 30 is pretty cut and dry. There is no arguing that it is a budget speaker. However, it is also a full blooded Celestion.

If you are looking to upgrade your tone and you’re all out of ideas, getting this bad boy could be the solution you were looking for. The performance it offers is more than acceptable considering its price.

As a matter of fact it is one of the best bang for the buck deals you will find in the 10″ class at the moment. Fortunately for us Celestion is not the type of brand to pump up the price of their products solely based on their brand name.

What is the Demoscene?

Demoscene may be a word you have not heard before. Reading it or saying it aloud conjures different associations depending on your background or interests.

One may summon thoughts of band demos, promotional, raw versions of songs that the band may send to record labels or event co-ordinators. However, that’s not it at all. It does have something to do with music.

Are you into computers? You may be familiar with game demos, which are promotional versions of a game featuring sneak peeks or tidbits. Demoscene is, in fact, software that has been coded to produce audio-visual artworks.

Origins in Digital Graffiti

Demoscene is a genre that sprung up in the very late 1970s/early 1980s as a result of the emergence of computer technology. Coders or “crackers” would hack/crack into games to remove their copyright protection and would add their own visual presentations to the games. These began as introduction screens with plain text listing the crackers.

These were known as signatures, the way a graffiti artist may go around and tag walls with just their name/initials or symbols. It was rather a way of showing off their ability to have cracked the game. Sometimes these intros were more technically advanced than the games themselves.

Eventually coders and viewers lost interest in the games and began making their own stand-alone demos: thus Demoscene was born.

The thrill came from creating things with computers rather than simply playing games on them. Viewers went from passive audience to active creators.

Early Days

Back then, all computers had basically the same hardware, so any changes made were fully credited to the programmer rather than one computer having better hardware than the next. This bred a very competitive atmosphere, challenging coders to create better effects than their counterparts.

In the early days, demo-making was borne of disbelief at the things computer users would see on the screen. Demo-makers would then play around to show their skill at what they could do with a computer. A large motivator has always been and continues to be the quest to find new and interesting ways of rendering graphics.

It was in 1980 that Atari, Inc., caught onto this new craze and began using a demo, on loop, that gave both visual and audio effects to show off their Atari 400 & 800 computers, which were available in stores.

Five years later, they released a demo for their newest 8-bit computers, which featured a three-dimensional walking robot and flying spaceship set, of course, to music.

It was in 1986 that Demoscene was created: or at least given a name. The original demo groups were 1001 Crew and The Judges, both from Denmark.

Demoscene remains to this day largely European and male-centric. These groups competed in 1986 with highly involved and impressive demos comprised of their own graphics and music. In the late 1980’s, the demo scene began to rise, particularly in Eastern Europe.

Demoscene Today

Demoscene is largely enjoyed by coders because of its possibilities. It enables coders to follow a system or create abstract works, making it a very popular international computer art subculture. They can – and will – work to get every last bit of performance out of their computer, since they work to produce visual and audio works. They will even extract techniques and effects not intended for the original hardware. The resulting artwork is one that shows one’s ability to program, as well as the visual and musical component. This subculture has a large following online (as you may have surmised), where users share their creations.

Demoscene to this day is mostly competition based, where the artists – whether working individually or within groups – compete to show both artistic and technical skill. Everyone in the scene must follow the implicit rules such as creating entirely original content, making the effort to figure out answers rather than ask for help and to make contacts within the scene. It is subculture that prefers to stay underground without mainstream attention. It is estimated there are about 10 000 participants.

The goal of the demoscene video is to create an experience similar to watching a music video, one that provides entertaining visuals to the sound of pleasing audio music, all entirely generated by software coding. It is also common for coders to work with musicians and graphic artists to create the demo. Most demos are created by a very small number of people.

Essentially the goal is enjoyment from start to finish: coders enjoy the artistic creativity and the technical challenge, while creating a finished product that is both entertaining and pleasing to watch.

So who are these coders? They do not go by their real names so as to avoid the attention of law enforcement, but demoscene is more about self-expression than its origins in cracking copyrighted software. Therefore, their stage names are more about the theatricality than the legality. It should be known that demosceners tend toward legal activity. Individual demosceners will have their own names, and their groups with have a name, so the demosceners will be known as (illustrated example) My Name of Certain Group.

There are often voting parties where difference demos are presented to the public and then the public votes. Traditionally they would have voted for the more technical side of demos but now the emphasis is more on overall impact or mood. Of course the subjectivity of the public is not reliable and so in recent years, Scene.org Awards has gathered a jury of renowned members to vote on the best productions. The scene was more social and casual in the 1980s with demomakers meeting to create and share their software, while the competitive side emerged in the 1990s, taking focus away from illegal activity and putting it into competitions.

Demoparties

Demoparties take place typically over a weekend where demosceners can socialize and partake in competitions, where they design demos all day and then show them at night. Often the visitors bring their own computers, but the party will provide a large space with tables, internet and of course, electricity.

Demosceners typically socialize more than they work on their computers when attending demoparties. These events are most often found in Europe with nearly a party every week, while in the United States, for example, there may only be two or three demoparties per year.

The events typically gather visitors from a single country, with the average attendee list from dozens to hundreds of people. Larger international parties also take place, hosting thousands of people.

Attendees will bring gadgets and decorations to set up at their workspace for the weekend. They will sleep either under their desk or in appointed rooms on air mattresses.

Female attendance at these events makes up less than 20% of the total attendee population; they usually get in for free, which is meant to encourage their participation.

What Is Electropop Music? Characteristics, History, Popular Artists, and More

Electropop, as a musical genre, has existed since electronic synthesizer-based music fused with pop music to create a new genre that is now widely known as electropop. 

In other words, if your music has synthetic elements, and yet aims to be popular, it could be considered “electropop”. 

But this is too simple an explanation – let’s dig a little deeper and explore the history, some of the characteristics, and popular artists working in the genre right now.


History of Electropop Music

The genre found its footing in the 1980’s with all sorts of electronics-based pop bands who were finding mainstream success, such as New Order, Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Pet Shop Boys, A Flock Of Seagulls, Aha, Soft Cell, Simple Minds, Erasure, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Depeche Mode, and countless others.  Back then, it was known as synth pop. 

Remember this classic synth pop song from The Breakfast Club Soundtrack – Simple Minds’ Don’t You (Forget About Me)?

There was no “electro pop” label around this time in the early to mid-80’s, but there was electro-punk music.  However, “electro-punk” I believe referred to groups like Suicide, maybe Devo, and even early Human League. 

The whole “electro” label just wasn’t used widely yet during the 80’s, they apparently liked the word “synth” better. 

My guess is that “electro” still reminded people of electric instruments, which were already widely in use, so they needed to differentiate.  Who’s “they”?  The writers who wrote for music periodicals, of course.  Rolling Stone, NME, etc. 


Influencers of Electropop

The bands that influenced all of these new synth-based pop music were far more progressive in nature than what amounts to electropop today – back then, it was synth pioneers like Jean-Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, even Pink Floyd and Bowie – these were some of the very earliest synth-based songwriters who experimented with the technology and became widely known as masters of that technology before anyone else.

Here’s Jean-Michel Jarre, with Oxygene, Pt. 4 – a song that came out well before even synth pop emerged in the 1980’s.

Synth-based pop music artists, who started their careers in the 1970’s, and who were really hitting it big by the mid-80’s, showed us that electronic pop music could become just as widely accepted as many of the larger rock bands of the day. 

The rise of synth pop was surely to the dismay of some rock bands and out of touch record company execs at the time, who didn’t want to have to deal with a whole new batch of weirdos wielding instruments that didn’t look very exciting (futuristic pianos), and people that moved in a more “unnatural” way.

A good example of this new type of “weird” music could be summed up with a band like Devo, who looked more like geeks and dweebs than any type of typical rock star. 

However, if you were around in the ’80’s, you knew that movies by the likes of director John Hughes and others were presenting social outcasts in a new light. 

It was “revenge of the nerds” out there, folks, and all sorts of people who were formerly cast aside were starting to become more generally accepted in society.  Life imitates art, they say. 

This clip from the Revenge of the Nerds movie shows the influence of electronic pop bands at the time on popular movies, which were seen in theatres and on video cassette by millions throughout North America.

With synth pop on the rise, and its more fringe elements starting to align with the concerns of Western society, the music loving public was now willing to accept synth-based music as a legitimate form of music, just as they had accepted rhythm and blues before that into the cultural lexicon.


Synth Pop’s Mass Appeal 

In terms of why synths caught on in the first place, I think that once the prices dropped for certain synths, which were, prior to the early 80’s, too expensive for most musicians to afford – well, these now slightly affordable synths eventually were within reach of more “normal” people, and more and more musicians started using them for songwriting purposes. 

That’s when synth pop / electro-pop bands started to surface, as people got a hold of the synths needed to make the music. 

Here’s a popular synth pop track from the time, which many of you might remember – Take On Me by A-ha.

I’ll throw in a personal anecdote at this time to corroborate some of this information I’ve been saying.  In 1984, when I was 7 and in Grade 3 here in Canada, I remember we had an assembly in the gym where a number of synth pop bands came to our school and played synthesizer music for us. 

I believe they came from the high schools, and it was just an event to show us smaller kids what was happening in the world outside.  All these teenagers had weird hair (ie. mohawks, hair dye, giant rat tails and mullets), and played various types of keyboards that looked like pianos but didn’t SOUND like pianos at all.  I remember being slightly confused, but very impressed. 

The point is, by the mid-80’s, kids were getting synths for Christmas and were putting their piano lessons to use by forming synth pop bands, some of whom had just watched movies like The Breakfast Club.

As the 80’s progressed, synth pop bands around the country started hauling these large synths out on stage for live performances, and that’s when critics took note that bands started looking and acting different, being quite suspicious of these bands at first. 

After all, most concert goers and editorial writers only knew rock ‘n’ roll for the longest time, and had yet to catch up with the paradigm shift that a large part of society had already experienced. 

These stuffed shirts and yuppie types who were accustomed to things being a certain way all the time, certainly weren’t ready for people like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper – these total freaks that were also female, to boot!  Scary!

For some people, having their daughter take after Madonna was their worst nightmare.  Still applies today!

As mentioned, “electropop” as a descriptive term for a style of music still hadn’t been born yet, and the terms around this time were synth pop, new wave, and electro punk.  Even Madonna, who was one of the biggest musical stars ever by the end of the ’80’s, was still referred to as a pop artist, if anything. 

Also around this time (mid-80’s), hip hop was beginning to develop out of New York, with artists like Afrika Bambaata, and it too was based mostly on electronic elements with some help from Mr. James Brown.

Still, no genre of music was really being referred to as electropop at the time, as it was still filtering its way into the deepest levels of society. 

By the 1990’s, “pop” was a common way to describe a lot of music that was in the charts.  If it wasn’t rock, it was pop, unless it was jazz, or blues, or something else. 

In fact, if memory serves, all of the electronic music that was being written in the ’90’s and was considered groundbreaking such as Underworld, Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers, Aphex Twin, Orbital, etc. 

Their music was called just that – broadly labelled as electronic music, and was still considered a fringe element along with the venues in which electronic music was played – raves, festivals, dark clubs, and such.  Even though these types of events were becoming far less fringe and more appealing to the masses.

In retrospect, this, of course, was the rise of DJ culture, and as such, most rock people and even people who were accepting of synth pop in the ’80’s wasn’t exactly prepared to accept rave culture into their homes.  That is, until they had to because it was just too damn popular to ignore any longer.


Electropop

If you ask me, electropop didn’t become a specially used term until the 2000’s, when all of the electronic music and all of the pop music finally merged to create a single definable style with certain characteristics.

Artists like Lady Gaga, Calvin Harris, Ke$ha, Hardwell, and The Chainsmokers have been dominating the charts now for years and their music could easily fall under the umbrella term of electropop, even though their music would also naturally fall into other sub-genres as well.

Let’s have a look at and a listen to perhaps the queen of electropop – Lady Gaga, from back in 2008 when she performed on Ellen.

To define electropop, it doesn’t have to be complicated, and yet it sort of is.  It is a style of music that is often heavy on synths, but avoids certain cliches that a genre like synthwave might embrace.  For instance, electropop is modern, without being retro-futuristic if that makes any sense. 

To explain, a similar genre like synthwave music harkens back to the days of synth pop and retro electronic sounds from the 60’s / 70’s / 80’s, typically of the progressive variety.  Electropop, on the other hand, is music made for this moment, is influenced by all sorts of world music styles but especially hip hop, and doesn’t rely on any sort of dystopian futurism for it’s stylistic cues. 

Which means, electropop isn’t usually very dirty production-wise or overly dark or sinister theme-wise.  Rather, the themes of electropop tend to be more eternal – love lost and found, and more relatable themes of that sort.

Check out this classic Calvin Harris track from 2009 called I’m Not Alone.  It has some guitar, yes, but it also builds around some epic synths, making the whole production sound huge.

Electropop now is like synth pop was, or pop music in general always has been – meant to be timeless.  Instead of using a lot of standard rock instrumentation (which it reserves the right to if it wants), electropop music itself can be built up with synths so long as the synths aren’t too retro-sounding. 

They can be retro, but not past say, the late 90’s, or it gets into that territory of 80’s synth pop which is does try to consciously avoid, I think. 

I would say that the synths used in electropop music sometimes has to play down their synth leads, due to the inclusion of vocals, whereas more experimental styles of electronic music don’t have the pop vocal performance to worry about as much (my highly generalized take on things, I know).

While electropop has been described as robotic and artificial by some (in terms of production, if nothing else), electropop music still manages to dominate most pop radio stations today, as electropop artists tend to write songs specifically to be catchy and have mainstream appeal. 

Other similar genres to electropop will opt for a more underground appeal, which serves to legitimize them more with certain fanbases, whereas electropop always goes for the largest audience possible, because it is “pop”, after all. 

Cue “Fireflies” by Owl City.

That said, the genre can still be experimental music in nature if it so chooses, as it is perpetually trying to be cutting edge and modern, attracting the slickest producers in the game, as well as some of the most talented artists in music right now. 

And, at the same time as it tries to be cutting edge, many detractors of electropop will claim that the genre is to music as the Twinkie is to nutrition – as in, devoid of any real value due to it’s assembly line production style.  In the end, all views are subjective, and tastes obviously differ from person to person.  

Like it or not, electropop is a dominant force in music today because it is one of the remaining musical genres where the success level can still be huge, as evidenced by artists like Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Owl City, Passion Pit, and others. 

And, with the accessibility of recording software and hardware, it is easier than ever for an artist to write an electropop song by themselves with no help from anyone, and make it sound like it was written by a million-dollar producer.  So, what are you waiting for?  Go do it.  If the Owl City guy can do it, why can’t you?

What are the Different Types of Mandolin?

There are a few different styles of mandolin available on the market, each of which evolved from the early musical models of the lute in the Middle Ages.

Typically players will use either an A style or F style, but there are other similar instruments invented for the purpose of mandolin orchestras, which is an orchestra that features primarily instruments from the mandolin family.

The two most commonly found mandolin types in current times include the A style and F style mandolin. You can also find the occasional antique bowl-back mandolin.

With this article we will delve into some brief history on how the different shapes emerged, as well as price points and musical styles that work best on each.

There are both bluegrass and folk mandolins. Bluegrass mandolins have differently shaped sound holes that allow the instrument to produce a good chop (chords that leave no open strings).

Folk mandolins have deeper, larger bodies with oval sound holes, as opposed to bluegrass mandolins that make use of f-shaped sound holes.

In folk mandolins, you will most often find flat tops and backs without carving.


A Style

The A style mandolin has a pear- or tear-shaped body, or A-shape, which is where it gets its name, of course. This instrument is very streamlined and simple in design, which puts it at a lower price point than F style mandolins, for example.

Due to its simple design and lower cost, the A style tends to be better for beginner players. This shape has been around since the mandolin was invented, but the instrument used to be made with a bowl back.

This rounded back lent to an interesting sound but created some difficulty for the player holding and using it. In the early 1900s, during a great peak in mandolin popularity after the Paris World Fair of 1892, Gibson redesigned the instrument.

It was also at this time the F style was invented. A style mandolins today share a similar profile with a guitar. The sleek and flat back makes them very easy to hold against the body.

A style mandolins are favoured among beginner players, but also lend nicely to folk styles and Celtic music.


F Style

F style mandolins get their name from Florentine style.

F style mandolins are favoured by bluegrass, roots and professional players. They feature fancier design work including a scroll and point, and are at a higher price point.

They may not be ideal for the beginner player on a budget, but they are beautiful instruments that add a great deal of flare to the playing experience.

The F style mandolin was designed by Gibson in the early 1900s as a top of the line instrument, incorporating traditional mandolin design and sound while giving it a flat back and scrollwork on the body.

These extra design elements to the F style put it at a higher price point that the simpler A styles.

These mandolins have, in addition to their lavish embellishments, two f-holes like a violin or a single oval hole. The extra curlycues in the body increase the body volume, which contributes to the overall sound.

This extra element also makes it easier to place the instrument on one’s thigh, so when the player is seated and playing, the instrument stays in place without much effort.


Bowl-back/Neapolitan

The bowl-back is exactly as it sounds: a fretted string instrument with a very round back that sits against the player like a bowl. It is the style of mandolin often depicted in film or television as a stereotype of the instrument.

It is also known as a taterbug or watermelon. This is a very old-fashioned style of mandolin that resembles early Italian lutes, the instrument from which the modern day mandolin evolved.

The deep bowl makes for deeper tones than the flatback styles, but they are rare to find. Often they are antique lute-violin hybrids and run a high cost.

They are less practical for playing purposes, but have undeniable strong tonal resonance.

Other Instruments in the Mandolin Family

Mandola/Tenor mandola


The mandola is tuned a fifth lower than a mandolin, and is slightly larger. It is tuned CGDA.

Bouzouki/Octave mandolin

This instrument is one octave below a mandolin, using GDAE tuning. The Bouzouki is tuned an octave below the mandolin, like an octave mandolin, but has a longer scale length.

It has pairs of strings, but the lower strings (G and D) are tuned one string an octave above the other.

Mandocello

This instrument was invented by Gibson for mandolin orchestras, tuned an octave below the mandola at CGDA. It is similar to the bouzouki but has thicker/heavier strings to produce the deep sound.

Mandobass

The mandobass only has four strings that are tuned EADG. It was invented in the early 1900s by Gibson for mandolin orchestras.