2 Shades of Grey

Songs from the soundtrack of your life


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Scott Walker…………a wondrous voice

My favourite Scott song too written by Tom Rush and in our repertoire. Rush said this song, although not one of his best but made famous by an “English” group, (common misconception by Americans as Walker Bros weren’t known in US and more successful over here) paid for his kids’ college tuition.

Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

During a recent bout of redecorating the house (not by me I might add) I had to move all my CDs and store all 800 of them, into boxes for safekeeping. This was an onerous task and one I had been trying to avoid but the painter phoned me and said he would be coming to start work in a couple of days……….so I could no longer put off the task.

So one morning I began taking CDs off the storage shelves and carefully placing them in cardboard boxes. It was quite remarkable what I discovered in my collection, CDs I had bought and then never played, stuff I had bought on my trips to Vilnius and Copenhagen (remember the Jazz CDs we bought here Mike?) and not to mention Tel Aviv (that was one hell of a record shop).

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One of the CDs I came across was “The Best…

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Song lyrics are getting more repetitive (and crappier)

That’s official! A Canadian scientist, Colin Morris, has analysed 15,000 songs dating back to 1958. From the poetry of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell to the modern pap that is churned out by the likes of Rhianna whose song Oxygen mentions America 33 times and breathe 22 times.

The most repetitive was a 1999 song by Sisqo called the Thong song and among the least was the late Chuck Berry’s 1959 song Back in the USA.

He used a compression algorithm which reduces files sizes by assigning repeated sequences a marker rather than storing the whole sequence. So a song with no repeating sequences can’t be reduced in size. On the other hand Daft Punk’s 1997 hit Around the World simply repeats the title 1,480 times and can be compressed 98%.

Songwriter Crispin Hunt blames the trend on the chart-buying public which comprises largely of 8 – 12 -year olds. The music industry focuses on this age group to get them hooked early.

It does raise the question of whether words really mean so much. When music is so repetitive and songs (?) like Get Low by Dillon Francis and DJ Snake comprise solely the words Brr  x 4 and Get low x 28 repetitions.


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It’s not what you play it’s the way that you play it

Heres a post I wrote elsewhere before I had 2 Shades up and running

Mike the Psych's Blog

bow_piano_performance_500_wht_12530Professional musicians (96% of them) and novices (84% of them) agree that sound matters most in a musical performance. Pretty obvious you would think. But it’s not so.

Experiments by concert pianist and psychologist Dr Chia-Jung Tsay ( a good name for a psychologist) showed that when it comes to a live performance it’s what you see that counts most – and that applies equally to professional musicians and the novices.

They were more accurate at picking out good performances by watching silent videos rather than audio recordings.

You might have noticed how many classical musicians, especially women, seem to trade on their looks. There are some good looking female musicians out there and the fact they they often appear scantily clad on CD covers hasn’t escaped my notice.

Naturally the study, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and which used 900 participants judging a mixture…

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Can’t get you out of my head, oh no

stick_figure_listening_to_music_1600_wht_2378If you’ve ever found yourself haunted by a recurring tune in your head – when you’re not wearing headphones – then you’ve probably got an ear worm.

Typically you might be hearing Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t get you out of my head” or the Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody“.

Scientists have now worked out why  songs like these tend to stick in your mind. It’s because they share similarities with nursery rhymes such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Researchers at Goldsmith’s College at the University of London have analysed 100 of the most annoyingly persistent songs from the last 50 years as named by 3,000 people.

The ear worm chart was dominated by Lady Gaga (well not for me as I’ve never listened to any of her pretentious output).

They compared the ear worm tracks with 14,000 other songs including songs by Britney Spears (Toxix) and Madness (One step beyond) and found that they haunted people through a mixture of the banal and the unusual. So the trick is to write songs that are generic enough to be easily recognised and too distinctive to be ignored.

A quick rhythm and more jarring leaps between notes were two other factors. For example the riff to Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water or In the Mood by Glen Miller.

The researchers think that their findings might be useful to advertisers who want tunes to stick in your mind long after you first heard them.

Well maybe. In the meantime here are the top most annoying earworms:

  1. Bad Romance by Lady Gaga
  2. Can’t get you out of my mind by Kylie Minogue
  3. Somebody that I used to know by Gotye
  4. Moves like Jagger by Maroon 5
  5. California Girls by Katy Perry
  6. Alejandro by Lady Gaga
  7. Poker Face by Lady Gaga

So you’ve been warned. Ignore these tunes unless you want an earworm!


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Music designed to make you work harder

head_gear_500_wht_2011The recent upsurge in the sales of vinyl hasn’t impressed everyone. Although said to be richer and more lifelike  than digitally produced music, an American technology boss claims that that’s what’s getting in the way of productivity.

Focus@Will has developed a form of streamlined music which they claim is based on neuroscientific principles and is scientifically optimised to help you focus.

They say it helps people to concentrate and think more creatively at work. They have cut out distracting frequencies and structured the songs so that they blend into each other without any jarring interludes.

The company has produced a study that claims that the music significantly sharpens listeners focus and persistence and gives mood a boost.

Researchers have argued for decades about whether or not music helps workers to be more effective.  Certainly during the last war the BBC presented Workers Playtime as part of the war effort to boost morale and productivity and it seemed to work as it was kept on until the mid-sixties.

Trying to prove that a particular genre of music or even an individual tune improves performance has been more difficult. Some results show that certain music e.g. a slowed down Mozart sonata, can improve spatial ability whilst a speeded-up version of it interfere with reading. According to the company’s science director, Julia Mossbridge, it depends on the characteristics of the music.

She recruited over 900 subscribers and tested them to see if they responded best to silence, ordinary music, or streamlined music. The listeners were examined using psychological games on their perseverance, visual attention, verbal memory, and logical and creative thinking.

The streamlined music seemed to have a strong impact on creative thinking with smaller effects on persistence, concentration, and mood.

Music helps boost mood and arousal but if the listener devotes attention to it any gain in cognition induced by increased mood and arousal is lost” according to a paper she published on arXiv.

Unfortunately everyone tested had already signed up to the streaming service so they might not have been representative of the population at large and that might have influenced the results. Also there was a massive dropout rate with only 50 people sticking it out to the end.

Having listened to samples of the music, or in some case sounds, I don’t blame them. Not very inspiring and lacking soul, You can hear them for yourselves here if you scroll down to the better of their web page.

And it’s not the first time music has been used to try and improve productivity. The Musak company (probably best know for its elevator music) began customizing the pace and style of the music provided throughout the workday in an effort to maintain productivity (a technique it called “Stimulus Progression“).

This music was programmed in 15-minute blocks, gradually getting faster in tempo and louder and brassier in instrumentation, to encourage workers to speed up their pace. Following the completion of a 15-minute segment, the music would fall silent for 15 minutes. If you can stand it listen here.

This was partly done for technical reasons, but company-funded research also showed that alternating music with silence limited listener fatigue, and made the “stimulus” effect of Stimulus Progression more effective. There was however a backlash as workers objected to being “brainwashed“.

Its popularity declined in the 1960s to be partly replaced by foreground music, much beloved by restaurants, fashion stores, retail outlets, shopping malls, dentists’ offices, airlines, and public spaces. Now there is a backlash against that with stores such as Marks & Spencer stopping playing music in their stores.

So fashions come and go but I think music will continue to play a part in our working lives and very to influence our shopping habits – as I posted here.