Mon 28 November 2016 | tags: music

I've been binge-watching the documentary series "Soundbreaking" (which leaves PBS streaming tonight. :( ) and overall I've enjoyed it. It's an ambitious series and I've learned a few things from it:

  • I wasn't aware of the TONTO synthesizer and Tonto's Expanding Head Band, which formed the synth periods of Stevie Wonder and The Isley Brothers.

  • That DEVO was a reaction to the music of the 1970s that lost a lot of the protest vibe of the 1960s. I thought it was more of a reaction to the sterilization of music and culture.

  • That Donna Summers' song "I Feel Love" was done by Giorgio Moroder, and who Giorgio Moroder was and his role in creating EDM.

  • How Tom Petty's "Free Falling" came about.

There's a few others, but those really stuck out to me.

Unfortunately with any survey of modern music there's bound to be a number of blind spots. And while this tries to cover a lot of territory there are a few places where I feel they missed out:

  • When they talk about synthesizers they give a passing nod to Wendy Carlos, and completely ignore Tangerine Dream and the Krautrock / Berlin School movement. Kraftwerk gets a nod in the section about beat.

  • The episode on sampling is dominated by rap and the genesis of hip-hop. To hear them tell it sampling was strictly the domain of rap and hip-hop and was later adopted by pop musicians in the late 2000s. The Beastie Boys get a lot of play in this arena because they (rightly) claim "Paul's Boutique" couldn't be made today without a crap-ton of sample clearance. But industrial bands are ignored.

  • The section on producers completely ignores Motown. Motown gets mentioned in the section on beat because of the amazing Funk Brothers rhythm section, but outside of Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross the Motown sound is conspicuously absent.

  • The hardest music they touch on is The Who. Prog Rock is completely ignored. Sections where they could easily talk about the virtuosity of artists in the acoustic realm are left with The Black Keys and Bruno Mars as the examples of virtuosity. Rush gets one picture. No mention is made of any metal bands that are putting out mind-blowing melding of jazz, funk, rock, and metal. Punk gets passing mentions, but when you have Rick Rubin on the show and just mention Slayer in passing? That's a missed opportunity.

  • To hear them talk you'd think EDM was where everything is happening in music. And while I won't argue there's interesting things happening there it gets a disproportionate amount of weight in this series.

Sure they're quibbles, and "my favorite bands didn't get a mention" complaints. But the overall package is amazing. The shear amount of music in this series is amazing and had to have been a huge undertaking to compile. What's there is a compelling story about the origins of recorded music and a lot of interesting discussion about what goes into making it.

Highly recommended if you get the chance to watch it.