Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: “The Musicology Show”

Posted by Maximum Fun on 2nd August 2009

One major benefit of podcasting has been its outreach potential: if you run an organization doing something cool, you can probably put out a podcast telling people all about it. Perhaps you run a spy museum; perhaps you run a scientific foundation; perhaps you run an august newsmagazine; updates on and explications of the neato activities of any of these can easily be piped out to the earbuds of a rapt listening public.

This goes double if you run a well-respected internet venture that deals in a substance close to much of humanity’s collective heart, and triple if you use magical-seeming technology to do so. Say, for example, you run the music-streaming service Pandora, whose hyperambitious music genome mapping efforts have introduced your Podthinker to the likes of Maze with Frankie Beverly, Autechre and Go West. The musical hive mind required to mount such a daunting project as catergorizing and organizing the sonic traits of all songs have, luckily for podcast listeners, come together to produce The Musicology Show [iTunes] [RSS], a regular venture into the inner workings of one of our favorite forms of organized sound.

Some of the topics covered will be old hat for practiced musicians: major and minor tonality [MP3], meters and time signatures [MP3], intervals [MP3]. But the program covers these subjects in a fun, conversational way, bringing in a different musican/music analyst (all the analysts seem to be musicians as well) at Pandora to discuss the performance or compositional phenomenon at hand and play a few examples while they talk with host Kevin Seal (who’s also an analyst/musician).

Other episodes get into the techniques of specific styles and interests: hip hop hooks [MP3], IDM and glitch [MP3], upright bass [MP3], electric guitar effects [MP3]. The podcast provides a sample of what must be the vast possibilities of each of these in ways that generalize to music as a whole: an episode about fife fingering technique would tell you about the fife, sure, but it would frame its fife fun facts in the context of music as a whole. No matter the episode, there’s one lesson that comes across loud and clear: everything in music’s related. Everything.

This is the sort of material that can be used and appreciated by active musicians and pure listeners looking for a bit more musical understanding alike. It’s also suberbly suited to the podcast medium, releasing as it does discrete chunks of musical education with audio illustrations right there behind it. It must be said, however, that the chunks are slightly too small. With each installment clocking in at roughly ten minutes, there’s not quite enough time to really stretch out and dig deep into the subject. Seal and his guests deliver more information than one would normally expect in ten minutes, let it be known, but the feeling that each episode should rightfully be thrice its length persists. Oh, well; perhaps they’ve all got… analyzing to get back to.

(NOTE: The Musicology Show‘s iTunes directory page seems to stop displaying new episodes past January 2009, but they’re still there. If you subscribe, new ones will automatically download nonetheless.)

Vital stats:
Format: music lessons
Running since: November 2006
Duration: ~10m
Frequency: between biweekly and monthly
Archive available on iTunes: all

[Questions, comments, ideas, suggestions or threats for Podthinker Colin Marshall? colinjmarshall at gmail.]