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

Next month is album writing month, at least according to an intriguing website, This non-commercial site is designed as a dare for songwriters to write 14 songs in 28 days.

Old Dogs, New Music

Jan 5, 2016

Researchers for streaming service Spotify have found that 33 is the age when musical taste stagnates. That’s the age when people stop seeking out new music. It turns out most of the stuff people listen to is what they liked when they were 16-24. I’m a little distressed. Music shouldn’t just be nostalgia, and young artists shouldn’t get crowded out by hits from the 80s.

Singer/songwriter Imogen Heap is always up to something, like engineering her own albums and inventing musical gloves that allow her to perform using only body gestures. And now she’s taken it upon herself to fix the entire music industry.

Music awards like the Grammys and the VMAs don’t really interest me, except for one. It’s the Barclaycard Mercury Prize for British album of the year. The Mercury Prize is chosen by a panel of critics rather than industry insiders, so it’s more about the quality of the music than how much money it makes for a record company. This year’s prize was awarded Nov. 20. As always, the field of nominees was full of great entries. The Mercury Prize short list has become my favorite music discovery service.

Page 62 of the official Kansas Driver’s Handbook states: “A horn should only be used in emergency situations.” And, yes, the car horn is a safety feature, but how often have it ever helped prevent an accident? The only time I hear a driver using a horn is when they want to send an audio signal to express their feelings. In other words, a car horn is a musical instrument.

When Subwoofers Attack

Nov 10, 2015
laffy4k / Flickr / Creative Commons

As I’ve talked about before, the Fletcher-Munson curve warps how we hear music depending on how loud it is. Low volume equates to less “fullness.” That’s why we like to turn up the bass.

Virtual Bands

Oct 27, 2015
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license / Ian T. McFarland

Virtual bands are a thing.

I’m talking about real bands with real songs, but represented as animated cartoon characters. Virtual bands have been around for generations, starting with Alvin and the Chipmunks in the late '50s. The Archies were a band on TV, as were Josie and the Pussycats and Jem and the Holograms. These were all television studio creations, as is Dethklok from Adult Swim’s Metalocalypse series. Some virtual bands, though, seem instead to have been imagined by the musicians themselves, and they are capable of very interesting things.

6tee-zeven / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

I can’t imagine two people as different as Neil Young and Donald Trump, so when The Donald recently used Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” as a campaign song, I wasn’t too surprised by Young’s unequivocal negative reaction. R.E.M. also had a tune appropriated by Trump, much to the chagrin of the band. It turns out that presidential campaigns of both parties have been asked by artists to stop using their songs.

Yves Lorson / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

On this week's Musical Space, Mark Foley recognizes a movement that helped radio stations become a lot more creative.

Oarih / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Human ears are most sensitive to frequencies around 2,000 to 5,000 cycles per second. That’s the most useful range for hearing human speech.

But music can encompass sounds down to about 20 cycles and up to 20,000. We just can’t hear the highs and lows as well as the middle. Strangely, the louder the music, the better we hear the lowest and highest sounds. In fact, we get the fullest spectrum of sound as close as possible to the threshold of pain.