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

Lately it’s been hard for me to take a lot of pop music seriously, and one reason is that it has become so shockingly apolitical. As tumultuous as civic discourse has become, there’s not too much on the radio that even touches on politics. Current music has become too polite and well behaved, and that puts it in danger of being irrelevant. Unless we start seeing some acrimony in the coming year’s Top 40, I fear that future musicologists won’t have much to say about 2018.

Musical Space: Blue Xmas

Dec 19, 2017

Let’s face it, Christmas has been engineered for the kids. It’s pretty uncomplicated for anyone under 12; winter vacation, TV cartoons, toys and stockings. The music, too, is simple - all jingle bells and ho, ho, ho.

About a month ago, the city of New York repealed its cabaret law, which banned dancing in any place that didn’t have a license. It was enacted in 1926, a year after the Charleston craze swept the speakeasies of Harlem, and was enforced mainly to suppress gatherings that police found undesirable. Not surprisingly, the New York City Cabaret Law made an indelible mark on music history.

Musical Space: Gratitude

Nov 21, 2017

Most music concerns itself with basic and raw emotions like love, sadness and anger - and can do a very good job expressing them. Other emotions, like gratitude, are more sophisticated and abstract, which makes them very difficult to bring across in sound. We have a whole holiday devoted to thankfulness, but there’s not a lot of music attached to it - we don’t sing Thanksgiving carols or do Thanksgiving dances. But gratitude is one of our most mature and evolved sentiments; it raises the question: Can music put us in a state of being thankful?

This is the song “Mindflowers” from the 1968 album Behold and See by the band Ultimate Spinach. It’s full of echo-y, distorted guitar, it drones on as though trying to make time stop, and the lyrics, like “take a trip to the center of your mind,” allude to some sort of inner discovery. I’m talking today about Psychedelic music because, even though it is mostly a phenomenon of the 1960’s, our musical space is still experiencing flashbacks.

(Music: Rhiannon Giddens, “Come Love Come,”  Freedom Highway (2017) 


Sung Kim

This is Joanna Newsom, singing her song “Sprout and Bean.” It’s a beautiful tune, but let’s face it: she has a weird voice: unschooled, childlike, amateurish. Her singing is not bad, it’s in tune, you can understand the words, but it still sounds weird.

Oktoberfest is officially on in Munich with the tapping of a strong local golden lager brewed in March and fermented all summer.

A lot of thought goes into making and explaining music, but I can’t come up with an intellectual reason for why we actually like it. There is a compelling unintellectual reason, though, and that is body chemistry. Science has found that music affects us because of our hormones. Research has found that our brains produce the neurotransmitter dopamine in response to music.

It’s August, and chances are either you or your kids are back at school. I think a lot about school, too, because of the bearing it has on music.