Skip to main content

The wall of sound - sixteenth century style

Record producer Phil Spector is famous for having created the "wall of sound" technique back in the 1960s, described in Wikipedia as a 'dense, layered and reverberant sound'. But I was reminded by something that popped up on the steam wireless as I drove home the other day, that the wall of sound was nothing new in Spector's day. (Geddit? Inspector? Suit yourself.)

The man responsible for the Tudor wall of sound was Thomas Tallis. He lived from around 1505 to 1585 and really took English music and dragged it kicking and screaming into the best 'modern' polyphonic style. He could write subtle, compact pieces. His hymn tune that would be used by Vaughan Williams in his Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis is quite simple, but beautiful and unusual for a hymn. It was written in response to a request from the new Queen Elizabeth to have something a congregation could sing. However he could also go over the top in experimentation, and this is where his own version of the wall of sound comes in.

Most polyphonic music has three, four or five parts. You might occasionally double up, so have perhaps eight voices, each singing a different line at once. But Tallis's motet Spem in Alium features forty separate parts. That's not 40 people with ten per part, but 40 people, each singing an independent line at the same time. Sometimes, frankly, it's a bit of a mess - but often it's glorious, particularly when the voices suddenly come together and move in unison.

Why not check it out:

Picture from Wikipedia - allegedly Tallis but not produced until at least 150 years after his death so bears no resemblance


Popular posts from this blog

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Which idiot came up with percentage-based gradient signs

Rant warning: the contents of this post could sound like something produced by UKIP. I wish to make it clear that I do not in any way support or endorse that political party. In fact it gives me the creeps. Once upon a time, the signs for a steep hill on British roads displayed the gradient in a simple, easy-to-understand form. If the hill went up, say, one yard for every three yards forward it said '1 in 3'. Then some bureaucrat came along and decided that it would be a good idea to state the slope as a percentage. So now the sign for (say) a 1 in 10 slope says 10% (I think). That 'I think' is because the percentage-based slope is so unnatural. There are two ways we conventionally measure slopes. Either on X/Y coordiates (as in 1 in 4) or using degrees - say at a 15° angle. We don't measure them in percentages. It's easy to visualize a 1 in 3 slope, or a 30 degree angle. Much less obvious what a 33.333 recurring percent slope is. And what's a 100% slope