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Wed, 060719
TechnoPop: An Overview of the TV Series
Filed under: — technop @ 030532UTC

TechnoPop: An Overview


How Technology Makes and Un-Makes
Popular Music

The television series featuring the musicians you love playing the music you know, telling you the incredible behind-the-scenes stories you’ve never heard.

The canned history of pop music goes like this: Uniquely American music emerges from the head-on crash of races and cultures that is New Orleans, paddles up the Mississippi to Chicago, then sweeps the country. The immigrants’ sons in Tin Pan Alley are smitten by the new sound and make it part of their craft; it dominates pop music in some form or another until the Fifties. Another new form emerges from the South – somewhere near Memphis, to be exact. The port cities of Britain get in on the act, then the ghettoes of Detroit, the South Bronx, and L.A. The bohemian quarters of London, San Francisco and New York join the game. Fortunes are made and stolen, legends born and trashed. The public revels in more and more music, always deeper, yet always nostalgic.

It may be true, as Paul Simon wrote, that “every generation throws a hero up the pop charts.” But that’s only half the story. The other half is hidden, running alongside the obvious one, and based on the observation that none of this could’ve happened without technology: There’s no Louis Armstrong – at least not one known around the world – unless Thomas Edison first figures out how to “draw” sound in wax, then reproduce it for retail sale by what will eventually become a $30-billion-a-year industry. In fact, every twenty years or so a set of new technologies revolutionizes the sound of pop and the business of music. By “technology,” we don’t just mean bleeping synthesizers and chug-chugging drum machines. We mean anything from player piano rolls and Edison’s first cylinder to Napster and the latest laptop. Anything that affects the way music is made, sold, or appreciated. Technology defines the way music sounds and the way the business of music works.

TechnoPop is the history of popular music viewed from the perspective of the technology that made it all possible. It’s also a parable of the way technology helps or hinders humans from expressing themselves. The story’s told by the people who made – and continue to make – it happen, from Quincy Jones to the Wu-Tang Clan, Sir Paul McCartney to Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel to Radiohead. TechnoPop is organized around those once-a-generation technological revolutions that reshape the aesthetics and economics of music: Sound recording itself, followed by the “electrical” recording process and the birth of radio in the 1920s; the “long player,” FM radio, and reel-to-reel tape in the 40s; the studio itself in the 60s; and what may be the most revolutionary innovation of all in the 80s – the ability to convert notes and beats into the ones and zeros of digital reproduction.

Some innovations literally changed the sound of pop. Tape, for example, allowed players to record a song over and over until they achieved perfection. Multitrack tape took that a step further, allowing individuals to record “perfect” takes one on top of another, turning the studio into an instrument that could make one singer sound like an entire band. Samplers allowed artists to freely borrow, adapt, and distort the sounds of performers who came before them, giving birth to hip-hop, drum-and-bass, techno and numberless other new genres.

Other innovations altered the music industry itself: FM brought a new, curious audience all the weird, wonderful music of the Sixties, while home computers and CD burners do the same for today’s music. And as the price of new technology falls, more and more musicians take advantage of the power it gives them to make their own recordings their own way. The internet accelerates both kinds of change, and the very meaning of making music changes. Indeed, right now, home computers and the internet are threatening to destroy the very industry that Edison’s cylinder made possible.

The series will present first-person accounts from the musicians who made the new gizmos sing: Les Paul churning dozens of inventions and hundreds of songs out of his garage in Mahwah, New Jersey; Quincy Jones realizing that the electric bass got more people dancing than an old-fashioned upright ever could; Bruce Springsteen retreating from a state-of-the-art recording studio to his bedroom in order to make a groundbreaking album on an $800 “Portastudio”; rap visionaries Chuck D and Prince Paul discovering that a new box called a “sampler” could help them make the music they heard in their heads; and hundreds of as-yet-unknown players – tomorrow’s superstars – taking advantage of computers to make and distribute their music. You’ll also hear from historians and scholars: Biographer Gary Giddins explains why Bing Crosby owed his success to a new device called the “microphone”, and how “Der Bingle” repaid his debt to technology twenty years later by funding the development of the tape recorder, in the process becoming the first of the Silicon Valley venture capitalists. Smithsonian scholar David Baker demonstrates how new technologies drove the tuba and banjo from the center to the fringes of jazz. Studs Terkel tells how radio and phonograph records forced music across the dividing lines of race and class. Greil Marcus pokes around inside the heads that made the Psychedelic Sixties. The unsung heroes will tell their stories, as well: The studio engineers who made flubbed notes a thing of the past by pioneering tape recording; the record label owners who realized that new technologies like the LP record and FM radio could expand the public’s musical horizons while earning them loads of money; the amateur radio operator who figured out how to set up loudspeakers that could rock thousands of teenagers at a time, kids with money in their pockets just waiting to buy the next big record; and the college dropouts who made the first synthesizers and drum machines.

TechnoPop is an entertaining, engaging examination of these trends, featuring the biggest stars and the most engaging behind-the-scenes players talking about the ways in which technology made music better, worse, or just plain different. The series combines interviews, animated illustrations, historical footage and recreations, on-location reporting, and an incredible array of groundbreaking musical performances to take viewers behind the front lines of the technological revolutions that have regularly remade pop music. It’s the history of pop that you’ve never heard or seen.

TechnoPop is also part of a multimedia franchise that will serve to explain technology’s growing impact on culture from literature to games. Other components of the brand include the forthcoming book, a web site and audio history archive, and an extended public radio series. We envision a four-part, six-hour, public-television-style series along the lines of the BBC/PBS co-production Rock: An Unruly History, with a touch of the BBC’s classic history-of-technology series Connections thrown in for good measure. The team includes veteran NPR cultural correspondent and PBS contributor Rick Karr (host and writer), and acclaimed nonfiction television producers Tom Casciato and Greg Henry. We are currently seeking $60,000 in seed money to complete shooting and editing of a five-minute pitch reel which will be used to solicit other investors and broadcast partners worldwide.

Contact: Rick Karr … rick-at-technopop-dot-org … Tel: +1 718 609 0068

The Team Behind the Television Documentary Series

Host and writer Rick Karr is a broadcast and print journalist who contributes regularly to several public television and radio programs. He is also an adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Rick began writing TechnoPop as a book-length history during a 2004 residency at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH. Later in the year he was named a fellow of the North Carolina-based Center for the Public Domain.

Between 1999 and 2004, Rick reported from New York on culture and technology for National Public Radio News. In 1998 and 1999, he hosted the groundbreaking NPR music and culture magazine show Anthem. Prior to that, he was a general assignment reporter at NPR’s Chicago bureau. Rick has written about culture, technology, and pop music for The Nation, New Musical Express, Sounds, and Stereo Review. He is a longtime musician, record producer, recording engineer, and songwriter. He was born and raised near Chicago and attended Purdue University and the London School of Economics. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, artist and animator Birgit Rathsmann.

Executive Producer Thomas M. Casciato is an award-winning producer, director and writer of nonfiction television programs which have appeared on ABC, NBC, PBS, TBS and Showtime, including such nationally-acclaimed series as Frontline, Turning Point, and National Geographic Explorer. Most recently, he was a Senior Producer of NOW with Bill Moyers. At NOW, he earned 5 national Emmy nominations, three for News and Documentary and two for Business and Financial Reporting. He also served as a Senior Producer of the 4-hour PBS series America’s First River: Bill Moyers on the Hudson.

As an executive with his own company, Okapi Productions, LLC, Tom has raised funds, negotiated and overseen budgets, and managed relationships with a diverse group of television organizations. He grew up in Portland, Oregon, and is a graduate of Stanford University, where he received a B.A. in English with an emphasis in creative writing.

Senior Producer Gregory Henry recently completed City of Rich and Poor, a one-hour documentary for PBS about the working poor in New York City with the veteran journalist Jack Newfield, who passed away shortly after the film was completed. Greg’s company lefthanded films, inc. raised the funds and oversaw the budget, then produced and directed the documentary.

Greg has worked on a dozen films and spent the first five years of his career with documentary filmmaker Charles Guggenheim, for whom he edited two films and co-edited three others, including the Academy Award nominee A Place in the Land. In 1998, Greg began working for journalist Bill Moyers on a variety of films, including a one-hour portrait of World War II veterans (D-Day Reunion) and a one-hour investigation of the effects of environmental chemicals on children (Kids & Chemicals). He also spent a year as a producer for NOW with Bill Moyers.

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