Update on Sting Book

I was in London last week doing some consultation for Pearson on the new A Level Music syllabus. The details of this are confidential, so I will use this post to provide an update on the other reason for my visit – research for my book on Sting. I am keen to give a sense of the places that Sting inhabited when living in particular locations. Having extensively dealt with Newcastle, this visit was the first of a few trips investigating his time in London. It included visiting well trodden places such as Stuart Copland’s squat just off Park Lane (where the cover of ‘Fall Out’ was taken) in addition to Sting’s basement flat in Bayswater – where we wrote bits of some of the early hits by The Police.



I also used the trip to catch up with an old colleague – Mike Howlett. Mike of course is a well respected musician and producer, perhaps best known for his work with Gong. He also has the distinction of introducing Andy Summers to Sting – and actually recorded with Sting, Copeland and Summers under the name of Strontium 90. The album they released was mainly recorded at the now demolished Virtual Earth Studios in Swiss Cottage, but one track – ‘Every Little Thing She Does is Magic’ was actually recorded in the attic of Mike’s flat in Acton – see below


I get into details in the book, but the impact of place on both the creative practice of musicians, not to mention their memories of the event is an important part of the forthcoming book – which is now about 3/4 finished. After completing a few more London based interviews – I will then be looking at New York as a space of creativity.

I finish with something nothing to do with the book – the extraordinary house prices in Bayswater. Wish I had bought one when I lived there!


For the 2nd year in succession, I have given a lecture on the development of musical personae (mainly influenced by academics such as Cone, Auslander and Moore) and its resonance with musical texture. We began by suggesting the following two types of musical texture

  1. Texture can be ‘physical’ (descriptive sound) and/or ‘rhetorical’ (carry extra-musical meaning).
  2. What is the need to consider the relationship between the singer (or lead instrument) and the ‘environment’ (the backing)

Based on Allan Moore’s 5 point scale (2013) – I suggested a more concise 3 point typology of musical environment:

1.Inert: No real impact on meaning. Sets the Style, Genre and Time only – no ‘extra lyrical’ impact on the personae singing it. Examples listened to included ‘Crazy’ by Patsy Cline (1962) and ‘A Million Love Songs’ by Take That (1992)

2.Active: Supports the position of the singer/lead: Examples discussed included Annie Lennox ‘Walking On Broken Glass’ (1992), Feist  ‘The Water’ (2008), Joe Cocker ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’ (1969), ‘Machine Gun’ Jimi Hendrix (1970), ‘Every Breath You Take’ The Police (1983)

3.Oppositional: Where the background environment conflicts with the lyric. We used some of Sting’s songwriting as indicative examples – but I am interested very interesting in other examples anyone can offer.


Regarding musical personae, we also spent some time considering how the person singing a song can be categorized as follows:

  1. The ‘Real’ Person/Performer singing a song: For example David Jones, Reginald Kenneth Dwight, Gordon Sumner, Saul Hudson, Robert Plant, Michael Jackson and -
  2. The Performance Persona: The character the performer ‘puts on’ when performing – distinct from the ‘real person’. David Jones = David Bowie, Reginald Kenneth Dwight = Elton John, Gordon Sumner = Sting, Saul Hudson = Slash, Robert Plant, Michael Jackson and -
  3. The Protagonist/Character: A character that is portrayed in a song – often no identity outside of song.

We discussed the relationships between these factors, and how their union or lack of union can impact notions of authenticity.

An interesting discussion point was the early images of Bob Dylan – who to most peoples minds conjures up notions of authenticity. These images portray lack of record industry mediation, lyrics than have real concerns, no gimmickry etc. However, it is interesting to compare these to Woody Guthrie – how does this impact our view of Dylan’s ‘authenticity’?


I am interested in any examples of

  1. Examples of ‘Inert’, ‘Active’ and in Particular ‘Oppositional’ Environments
  2. Discussions of songs which involve ‘Real Person’, Persona’ and  ‘Protagonist. How do they work together? How does the real person display elements of their self via a personae and protagonist/character?



This is a very brief post about potential online websites that can assist with music theory. A few of my students asked me about this during the week – and I have found the following two sites that look interesting.


Music Theory.Net

For the moment, I am not considering Iphone apps – only web sites – and am interesting in two factors

1) Can anyone recommend any other sites that they have found useful

2) I am interested in stories from anyone who has found this sort of site useful

I am particularly interested in areas such as Key Signature construction and Identification, Mode construction and Identification, Chord construction and Identification. For the moment – I am not interested in ear training – although most would argue it goes hand in hand with what I have asked about.

Interested in any comments anyone may have.

In today’s musicology lecture – we discussed a few ways in which a musical mix can be analyzed. It started by suggesting the following factors as a way to consider recorded sound. We need to think of this as a three dimensional virtual sound box

  • ¨Listen closely for  the relationships between instruments in terms of:
  • ¨Frequency (High – Low): For example hi hats at the ‘top’ and bass drum at the bottom
  • ¨Depth/Distance (amount of ambiance): Note how studio effects assist this via reverb, delay, compression, etc
  • ¨Stereo Spectrum (Left – Right). Does it change? Do these changes help evoke the mood of the music?
  • ¨General Volume: How does this impact the perception of distance to the listener?
  • ¨Is there any double tracking? How subtle is it?
  • ¨Use of effects) (compression, delay, chorus, etc)
  • ¨Use of EQ?
  • ¨Is the texture homophonic or Polyphonic?
After briefly discussing the ‘layers’ of a mix (beat, harmonic, melodic etc) we spent some time discussing the ‘Soundbox’, considering Allan Moore’s typology of mixes as a starting point
  • ¨Cluster: Where all instruments are grouped together in a cluster.
  • ¨Triangular: Bass, Drums and Vocals spread across the stereo spectrum – or two one side – one the other
  • ¨Diagonal: Bass, Drums and Vocals in center – with other instruments around them
  • ¨Dynamic: A mix that changes through time.
After listening to a number of musical examples which considered all of these factors  (in particular how the ‘Dynamic’ mix has emerged from the early 70s as been dominant) – we began to consider the prevalence of these ‘older’ mix types (Triangular and Cluster) in modern music. I suggest you listen to the first 13 tracks on the playlist below (From ‘Blue Velvet’ up to the Queens of the Stoneage Track). Try and listen with headphones – as it is easier to spot the techniques this way. Note the following examples
‘Blue Velvet’ – ‘Wind Cry’s Mary’ and ‘If Six Was 9′. Example of 60s Triangular Mix
‘Mellow Yellow': Example of Cluster Mix
‘Hold Your Head Up’ through to ‘Black Chandeller': Examples of Diagonal Mix
‘One Rainy Wish’ and ‘Song For the Dead': Example of Dynamic Mix
The question I am asking is this – in order to make a modern mix sound ‘authentic’ (for example if a band was attempting to sound like early Hendrix)  – are there any examples of contemporary music that uses Triangular mixes? As discussed last year – it has been proposed that headphone based listening habits have been one of the reasons why Triangular mixes are no longer used? However – I would love to hear some examples of them been used anyway. In addition to examples of mixes – try and consider the reasons why they occur. Is it easier to hear on the radio? Does it fit with particular styles of music? Is it a trait of the producer? etc.
I would be interested in any observations. For anyone interested in reading Moore and Ruth Dockaway’s paper on the Soundbox – click here.

Alongside two colleagues, I have just completed a report commissioned for the Higher Education Academy, which investigates the interdisciplinary relationship between dance, drama and music.

The report was carried out by myself, Richard Hand (from USW) and Rea Dennis (from Deakin University in Australia), and investigates the strategies and practices of interdisciplinary learning, teaching and assessment in these subject areas. Through secondary desktop based research, the analysis of an online questionnaire and a number of ‘case study’ interviews, the report summarises what the current situation is regarding interdisciplinary strategies and practices in relation to HE dance, drama and music.  It identifies institutional enablers and inhibitors and provides recommendations about measures institutions might take in order to prepare for and implement these practices. It can be found in published form from this link

If anyone has any questions about the report, or indeed interdisciplinary strategies in general (in the Performing Arts) – feel free to contact me.



My yearly lecture on the relationship of the elements of music and musical form took a different approach this year. The lecture began by playing a number of examples taken from the current UK top 10 – that adhere to ‘the rule of 4′ (where the verse and chorus consist of multiples of 2/4): These songs included ‘All About the Bass’ by Meghan Trainor, ‘All of Me’ by John Legend, ‘I’m Not the Only One’ by Sam Smith and ‘Bang Bang’ by Jessie J. It is interesting to point out how the ‘formulas’ of these songs link to the past (For example ‘Your Song’ by Elton John and ‘We’ll Meet Again’ by Vera Lynn both use exactly the same structure), but create an expectation in the listener – who intuitively knows when specific sections are coming (do you agree?). The lecture then proceeded to discuss how some music carefully breaks these rules: the examples are countless – but I used ’20 Years’ by The Civil Wars and ‘Yellow by Coldplay’ as examples. I could just as easily have used a Motown track from the 60s – or just about any track by  mr Zappa! We then continued to discuss how the elements can be used to create interest when the form is basic on the surface – for example listen to ‘Sloop John B’ (1966). The lecture then linked how tracks such as ‘Stand by Me’, ‘Creep’ and ‘All Along the Watchtower’ all use the same chords for all of their ‘sections’. This obviously places a responsibility on the songwriter/arranger to ensure the other elements create interest. We then listened to ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ as an example of a piece of music that simply changes meter between sections. So – the task for this week if for students/anyone to provide examples of all of this -

  • Examples of pieces of music with unusual bar numbers between sections
  • Examples of how rhythm delineates form between sections
  • Examples of  pieces of music which has the same chords for both verse and chorus
  • Examples of texture/instrumentation delineating form
  • Examples of how meter delineates form between sections

I am particularly interested in the following challenge – does a piece of music exist which has the same melody for the verse and chorus?????????

Finally – how does all of this link in to Adorno’s idea of ‘Standardisation’ (for those of you that are aware of it)? Does the ‘production line’ mentality of popular music pressure songwriters to stick to these ‘rules’. More significantly – does listening to music like this encourage us to sit in our chairs and watch XFactor – not using our intellect to question the world we live in etc etc etc etc????

Like I have done for the last few years, I gave my annual lecture to my musicology class regarding the ways that the Elements of Music (EOM) can be a good starting point for analysis. In the UK, the EOM have been conversation points since the National Curriculum impacted music education in the UK during the mid 1980s – so most students starting higher education music courses in the UK are aware of them. Many students report during their school years that they learn to identify what the elements are – and then pin some sort of emotional response to them. Crude I know – but one of the ideas behind the National Curriculum was to bridge the gap between music and emotional response. As I mentioned in a post a couple of years ago – I find a useful starting point is to build upon this preexisting awareness, by initially giving students a list of elements to consider – such as the following

  • Melody
  • Harmony
  • Lyrics
  • Form
  • Texture
  • Tempo
  • Metre
  • Timbre
  • Dynamics
  • Mix
  • Groove

I then play a variety of music – and ask them to prioritize what they consider the most important elements are. It is here that the interesting debate starts – as this activity highlights the polysemic nature of music – where students can consider, and rationalize their own reasons behind their choices. What is particularly fascinating is considering something like tempo in a mid 70s disco track (For example ‘Car Wash’). The tempo sticks to around 120 bpm throughout – so does this mean that this element would be given a low priority? I find many students would say it is not important -as it adds no interest to the piece – while others suggest that the tempo is vital to the ‘dance feel’ of the song. If it was speed up or slowed down – it would be more difficult to dance to – so tempo is therefore given a high priority. This is the type of debate that can go on – but to me what is important is the ability to rationalize the reason behind your choice – whatever it is.

This year, for the first time, the conversation also turned to some elements being deliberately made simple so that other elements can stand out. In effect they sacrifice their dominance for the good of the other. For example, when listening to a solo Bob Dylan piece, it could be argued that the musical texture is simple/one dimensional in terms of elemental importance – but what would happen if Dylan’s lyric was juxtapositioned against complex harmonies, changing textures and fluctuating tempos? Would his lyric still impact us the way it  currently does?

I am interested in any thoughts/examples of this anyone can offer…..


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