Musical Space

Musical Space is a look at all things music, by KMUW Music Commentator Mark Foley. Mark is Principal Double Bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and Professor of Double Bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.

He has been a featured soloist with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, performs extensively as a jazz artist is also an avid bluegrass player. Passionate about promoting new and diverse music, Mark is the founder and music director of the Knob Festival of New Music, a series of concerts held in Fisch Haus Studios every Fall.

The Musical Space commentary airs on KMUW on alternate Tuesdays. You can subscribe to the Musical Space podcast on Apple Podcasts or Google Play

I’ve been talking lately about good film music, but what about films about music?  I imagine it’s difficult to do - what can a movie say about music that the music itself doesn’t already tell you? - but great directors have turned their cameras on music makers in lots of different ways.

The recent tragic fire at Notre Dame got me thinking about that building, and others like it. Music history is tied to a thousand years of cathedrals being at the cultural center of every European city.

A lot of movies use music as sonic wallpaper - just background sound to fill silence and fit the genre - but bold, memorable films tend to have equally strong and unforgettable music at the forefront. Great filmmakers have a way of merging images and narrative with the visceral power of sound. It happens a lot in art-house films, like those you can watch on the new Criterion Channel. I’ve been perusing their catalog lately, and lots of titles have come to mind.

Musical Space: Criterion

Mar 26, 2019

There’s a lot happening in the movie biz: Disney just bought 21st Century Fox and will be launching their own streaming service later this year. More interesting to me, though, is what’s going on with the most important distributor of serious film - The Criterion Collection. 

A lot of the music you hear comes from production music libraries. These are collections of sound cues that are licensed for use in media. It’s like using stock footage in a movie; convenient for a producer who can’t afford or be bothered to hire a composer, which is why stock music has become as universal as it is generic.

The concept of production music is as old as talkies - film studios had reels of generic music they would reuse to accompany fight scenes, love scenes, and chase scenes.

Video podcasts are just like the audio podcasts I talked about a few weeks ago, but with the added video dimension. This is a broad category, and I don’t even know what to call them: videocasts, vodcasts, or vlogs. They’re made by small groups for a niche audience on a tiny budget - often just someone in their living room using their phone cameras. But the good ones share a plucky, DIY spirit and they create content that is more unusual, informative, and personal than anything on commercial TV.

Most of my listening time is now devoted to music podcasts. They fit the way I live; I like the format - most podcasts are almost as ad-free as what you’re listening to now. And they make car rides feel like less of a waste of time. Some are interviews, others are just curated playlists. My favorite music podcasts, though, are the ones that can really take advantage of the medium. This is the most democratic of all media -- anyone can make and distribute a podcast for next to zero dollars.


The late Amy Winehouse will be going on tour this year. More accurately, a company called Base Hologram has created a digital 3-D representation of the singer, which will be presented all over the world, backed up by a live band. There are plans for other holographic acts, too: Roy Orbison, Billie Holiday, Elvis. Being someone who always lobbies for hearing living, breathing musicians in the flesh, you can probably guess my opinion on this, but please allow me to tell you exactly why.

Prohibition began with the ratification of the 18th Amendment on Jan. 16, 1919. This didn’t change much here in Kansas: We had a constitutional ban on alcohol going back to 1880. But it did put Kansans into the national divide between the partygoers and the teetotalers. 

Today, 2019, is a tabula rasa, a blank slate, and getting on with the business of the new year means letting go of 2018. There are beautiful traditions all over the world for dispensing with the accumulated dreck of past, like throwing furniture out of the window, lighting huge communal bonfires, and even burning the pictures of politicians.