Category Archives: Week 11

The Importance of the Blues: Stretching the Scale

Within the realm of musical genres and change, the hybridity of types of music has slowly formed and meshed into the popular music of today. Musical expression has always had a social situation and community or audience to accept the music that represents the times. As times change, so does the music, stretching itself beyond and spilling over boundaries untampered with.

With music, the genres that evolve are culturally specific and represent the events and atmosphere of different levels of culture. Some music has been inspired by what is considered to be of higher class individuals, while other music has come about through the roots of America and what is known as the lower working class. It all represents the culture specific genres within a time period, with a ‘learned collective meaning system’ involved (which sometimes has multiple subsystems within a culture).

Blues, jazz, and rock n’ roll has evolved throughout the decades into what is currently considered present day, or modern rock. Through the ages these genres have formed, molded, and remixed with each other according to their historical era, as well as previous influences and past traditions/styles learned of other lifestyles. These are the two main aspects that are imperative, effecting the contextual meaning of music today. The past and present happenings are alway imperative when forming new music or compositions, often times using what is previously created as a basis for one’s work.

Miles Davis and his friend George Russell, a composer and scholar, created the next step from jazz and blues to what would become the basis of rock n’ roll. A lot of music right before Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’ Album came out, a common theme of chord progressions and repetitions within music was prevalent. It had distinct beats and often tempos that equally resembled each other. Russell made the sound of their music based off of scales instead of chords. Instead of the same repetition of chords over and over again with only three or four notes out of an octave, he took the whole scale and used it to make a similar sound that stretched the sounds of the music past just a few chords.

Louis Prima is another person I think of when it comes to jazz, blues, and a little bit of a different way of doing things. Some of his songs became epic cultural themes such as, “Jump, Jive, an’ Wail,” and “Oh Marie.” They too dared to bend the rules of the scale, but keeping much more of the bebop timbre. As mentioned, the change of stretching the scale was a progression that started before Davis, but that him and Russell mastered, ultimately leading to the base precedent for R&B, but I think Prima was a prime example of someone who liked to get creative in terms of tempo and range of music produced, which was the step before Davis and Russell. (See Prima’s “The Wildest!” album here)


As Russell and Davis collaborated, Russell said, “You are free to do anything,” meaning that he threw out the old rules of knowing what chords would be played next. You could tell where a lot of the chord progressions were going to go many times within other pieces of jazz or blues, and Davis and Russell didn’t want to do that anymore. Instead of repeating, they also linked chords, scales, and melodies, which created a flowing progression of music.

In a way this was a hybrid remix of the way music was played prior to Davis. Between him and Russell, they found a new way to mix musical notes to get out of the repetitive loop of bebop. Between the two of them, they hired Bill Evans to play the piano on the ‘Kind of Blues’ album. When a chord would be the sound needed in the song (say, a G Chord,) he would know how to hover around it, using the scales and notes without directly just playing the G chord. It created a flow to the music unheard of. John Coltrane was one of the saxophone players, following in Evans’ lead of relative notes and scales. Coltrane sealed the deal to this way of music by making his new album, ‘Giant Steps.’ This album was even more free than Russell’s composing or Evans’ playing which led to a wild compilation of scales chords and notes that flowed and became the beginning of a new era.

george_russell_1456284c miles-davis

A last note based upon the technologies used in this time period: the microphone was revolutionary and is something I feel is a little underrated now that we have mics that are extremely sensitive and can be a small bud taped to an actresses face as he/she sings the finale with ease. With the invention of the radio, microphones were mastered (after their original invention in 1876). New broadcasting microphones were created in 1942 for news purposes, and in 1964, Bell Laboratories researchers West and Sessler received their patent for an electret microphone, which offered better quality in general (lower cost, higher precision, smaller size).  The more it was worked on the better it sounded, allowing performances to be executed in a way that could really entertain larger crowds. Whether it was used in the studio for recording like with Davis or other celebrities, or in performances, it enhanced the sound of music. The mic now gave sound (and musical instruments) a chance to shine no matter its frequency, genre, or personal style.

Works Cited

“AllMusic.” AllMusic. N.p., 2014. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. <>.

Bellis, Mary. “The History of Microphones.” Inventors., 05 Mar. 2014. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. <>.

Kaplan, Fred. “Why Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue Is so Great.” Slate Magazine. N.p., 17 Aug. 2009. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. <>.

Martin Irvine, “Popular Music as a Meaning System”


A Jedi Mind Trick

Like the collage artists of the Pop art movement, Janelle Monáe works with materiality, using found objects to create fascinating music remix not only other artists and their particular brand of sounds, but merging and distilling genres to create something unique, arguably more innovative than its source material.

DSC06895Having seen Monáe in-concert in October 2011 supporting her debut album, The ArchAndroid, it must be said that her live show is a revelation. She flew around stage with boundless energy, only gasping for breath and drowning herself in bottled water at the recess of each song. In a set that remixed much of the last 80 years of music, the woman was left physically drawn from such an exuberant performance. But what was fascinating most about Monáe’s concert was the seamless flow from a diverse musical palette with which she painted beautiful pictures. Among her sources of inspiration are legends such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Jimmy Hendrix; even elements from minstrel shows of the 1920s and singer-songwriters of the 1960s. Journalist Bernadette McNulty wrote, “I begin to worry for a moment that Monáe may not just be a humourless science-fiction nerd, but actually an android herself, created in a laboratory as a super-musical cross between James Brown, Judy Garland, André 3000 and Steve Jobs, invented to test the desperate incredulity of music journalists” (McNulty, 2010).

DSC06904McNulty was certainly not the only one to heap such high praise on Monáe, nor the only one to try and box Monáe into an easily digestible bite of genre. Slant Magazine’s Huw Jones penciled her in as “a unique gray area between neo-soul, funk, and art-rock” (Jones, 2010). Monáe remains too complex and too wide-ranging to be simply stamped categorically as one thing or another, or even a mixture of the two. Perhaps it’s because Monáe herself describes he own musical inspirations as so diverse they might never be seen in the same Grooveshark playlist or Pandora stream. Monáe describes The ArchAndroid’s influences as “all the things I love, scores for films like Goldfinger mixed with albums like Stevie Wonder’s Music of My Mind and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust’, along with experimental hip hop stuff like Outkast’s Stankonia” (Lewis, 2010).

A number of authors have noted the ease at which music and parts of music pass via digital transfer. Whether it’s a hook from a 70s Disco track like “Ring My Bell” or just a bass track from Swizz Beats, the DSC06909circulation of samples and pieces of other musical influences circulate freely in the digital realm. Monáe’s “The ArchAndriod” uses this context as a license to play with influences and genre. Everything is game, and the entire catalog of music for the past 80 years serves as the source material, as if Monáe was writing from her own eclectic playlist. Her own references to time travel (NPR, 2010) emphasize the freedom she feels in playing with these influences, creating connections others might not see between musical genres. Replicating this approach in her timeless tuxedo, Monáe feels both like she could fit anywhere on the American music cultural timeline, and yet is distinctly of this era. Monáe’s work is made possible through this age of digital music remix. Listening to her album from start to finish feels like listening to an ipod on shuffle. While the tracks do blend together to form a cohesive whole, the mix of genres replicates this distinctly 21st century musical experience.

Critics love Janelle Monáe for all of these reasons. Not only is her work an homage to many of the musical greats of the last century, Monáe is also a lover of literature, specifically science fiction, and the intertextual nature of her work in echoing themes of Philip K. Dick and Octavia Butler. While her most recent album, The Electric Lady, made a quieter debut, she has also been a commercial success. Through more commercial pop hits like “Tightrope” and “Wonderland,” Monáe brings a remixed musical future to the mainstream.


Jones, H. (2010, Dec 8). Janelle Monáe (London, U.K. – December 5, 2010). Slant Magazine. Retrieved from

Lewis, P. (2010, July 12). Janelle Monae: Funky sensation. Blues & Soul. Retrieved from

McNulty, B. (2010, June 25). Janelle Monae interview: The android has landed. The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved from

NPR (2010, May 14). Janelle Monae: Dreaming in science fiction. NPR. Retrieved from


Seamless Remix – The ArchAndroid

Emily Rothkopf

Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid reads like a perfectly-produced film – perhaps like a Quentin Tarantino film, remixing every genre at-hand, yet in one meticulously crafted and cohesive work of art.  Many artists today, particularly in the hip-hop genre, employ remixing/sampling for shock value – it produces a juxtaposition of sounds that perks the listeners’ ears up.  The ArchAndroid however manages to remix genres so seamlessly that the listener flows from one song to the next, or one scene to the next, without even realizing the change of scenery.  Monae clearly doesn’t want to fit in as another modern day, mainstream and cliched artists.  Like other innovative artists, she positions her music against what she doesn’t want to sound like or be, and affirms the styles or traditions that she wants to expand (Irvine 2013).  In this case, perhaps Monae is rejecting the idea of the formulaic pop artist and expanding upon the idea of the composer – an artist working with samples and directly with sound, “thus becoming more like [her] counterparts in the visual and plastic arts” (Katz 2010).  In The ArchAndroid, Monae samples sounds from R&B to folk to cinematic scores, in shifts that “seem intuitive rather than jarring” (Perpetua 2010).  The result is somewhat oscar-worthy.

  • Suite II Overture — Initial applause symbolizes a live performance, which is then followed by stringed instruments.  The combined sounds transport the listener to an opera house, experiencing an orchestral performace.  Like other tracks on the album, there is a cinematic vibe here.
  • Dance or Die — This is an example of Irvine’s “Sound Stack 1” with its electronica sounds and vocal repetition.  Mixed in are the hip-hop and funk genres as symbolized via fast, spoken word vocals.  A rock guitar riff is also added in as an interlude.
  • Faster — This is a fast-paced R&B track mixed with background female vocals and funk/hip-hop beats.  Also included is a “ladies and gentleman” introduction to another musician, reminiscent of the classic R&B genre.
  • Tightrope — This is an R&B and funk inspired track with a hip-hop/rap inspired male vocal interjected.  The song closes with big-band inspired instrumentals.
  • Oh, Maker — Monae sounds like a whole new vocalist on this folk-inspired track that seamlessly shifts into R&B.  The background vocals are notably beats, not lyrics.
  • Suite III Overture — This track is like a cinematic score and reminiscent of an old film from the 50’s/60s.  It’s opening is reminiscent of the classic song “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
  • Wonderland — This song seamlessly shifts in from the last track.  It has a 90s pop sound with a futuristic vibe, as relayed through the tech-modified vocal.  The track closes with a church choir–esque “hallelujah” vocal.
  • BaBopByeYa — This is a jazz influenced track where the listener can envision Monae as a cabaret singer in a black-and-white film, singing into a vintage 50s style microphone.
  • Locked Inside — There is a 70s dance music vibe to this track, which is mixed with R&B style background vocals.

Works Cited

Katz, Mark.  “Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music.” University of California Press, 2010. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.

Irvine, Martin. “Popular Music as a Meaning System.” Georgetown University, 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.

Perpetua, Matthew. “Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid.” Pitchfork. N.p., 20 May 2010. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.


Dialogic Music Culture and The ArchAndroid

Layan Jawdat

The ways in which we listen to and interact with music have changed as recording and listening technologies have advanced. In “The Record Effect,” Alex Ross discusses the potential “effects” of these technological advances on music’s place in society; he explains: for music to remain vital, live recordings have to exist in balance with live performance, and, these days, live performance is by far the smaller part of the equation”(Ross).

In addition to these changes, the advances in technology allow us to store and share music with ease and in large quantities. Digital media platforms like iMovie and YouTube render “remix culture” and sampling more visible today than ever before, and thus questions about the “always already” remixed state of culture, including music, are likewise highly prominent today. On the state of remix and sampling today, Eduardo Navas explains: “During the first decade of the twenty-first century, sampling is practiced in new media culture when any software users including creative industry professional as well as average consumers apply cut/copy & paste in diverse software applications…in Web 2.0 applications cut/copy & paste is a necessary element to develop mashups; yet the cultural model of mashups is not limited to software, but spans across media” (Navas, Regressive and Reflexive Mashups).

With a  little bit of digging back into the history of music and its different types and genres (easily accessible today because of websites and services like YouTube, iTunes, Grooveshark, etc), it is clear that musicians do not live in isolated bubbles, and that each new musical production incorporates and builds on the music (and styles) of the past. Today’s music production environment, however, is different from music production of the past. Instead of playing instruments, DJ producers’ “raw material comes from mass production, which has pre-existent cultural value.The role of the DJ producer is to replay–or remix–not create, like a traditional composer is expected to do”(Navas, Remix). While some types of music embed recognizable units from other music (remix that includes sampling), others are hybrid in that they are built off of various musical styles that have developed over time.

Janelle Monae’s album The ArchAndroid is an impressive amalgam of musical styles, put together in new and interesting ways. Listening to her entire album made me realize there was no way I could identify every reference to these different styles, since I am by no stretch of the imagination a music expert. I did learn, however, that various sounds and musical styles could be identified throughout the entire album–each song offering some new and unexpected combination of references from the cultural music encyclopedia. Whether we are conscious of what we’re listening to or not, as consumer of culture, we associate certain sounds and musical styles with certain artists, songs, feelings, and eras. These sounds resonate with us and have meaning even before they are embedded and reinterpreted in new types of music.  Monae’s album is a perfect example of this, and listening to it was a really fascinating exercise in trying to untangle these different embedded units.

The first song on the album, “Suite II Overture”, clearly reminds listeners of an orchestra. Even the clapping at the end makes you feel like you’re in a large concert hall, and have just finished watching/listening to a live performance. The cultural codes associated with this type of music are quickly juxtaposed with the next song, “Dance or Die,” which features Monae speaking quickly (or rapping) and has a funky sound with drums and later, an electric guitar that reminded me of Santana. The way in which Monae manipulates her voice and changes her accent throughout the album also calls our attention to the codes and meaning we associate with singing styles and accents. In “Faster” her accent is British, and she also switches into an American accent halfway through the song, then goes back to the British accent. These changes function by signifying two distinctly different voices. “Tightrope” has a decidedly jazzy and soulful sound, with what sound like trumpets blaring throughout. Other songs, like “Oh Maker” sound like they’re from a musical. In “Wondaland,” Monae again plays with her voice and sounds like an android, or something mechanical and programmed.

Listening closely to The ArchAndroid made me realize that even when we don’t recognize exactly where something comes from, or what musical references a song or an artist is making, we still recognize that there are different styles embedded in songs. Monae’s album is interesting because  she combines these styles and makes musical references, and even changes her voice and accent in novel ways.

Works Cited

Navas, Eduardo. “Regressive and Reflexive Mashups in Sampling Culture, 2010 Revision, by Eduardo Navas.” Remix Theory. N.p., 2010. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <>.

Navas, Eduardo. “Remix: The Bond of Repetition and Representation, by Eduardo Navas.” Remix Theory. N.p., 16 Jan. 2009. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <>.

Ross, Alex. “The Record Effect,” The New Yorker, June 6, 2005.