An exploration of rhythm and blues and techno music
By researching both rhythm and blues and techno music I hope to show a diverse exploration of the history and stylistic origins of each genre as well as how these styles later influenced musical progression as a whole[d1] .
Ripani [d2] (2006) defines rhythm and blues (R&B) as a style of popular music that originated during the 1940s in African American communities and that it is/has [d3] become a fusion of both European and African musical traditions. The term “rhythm and blues” was first introduced by Billboard Magazine in the late 1940s to replace the original title “race records”, which categorised any music performed by and targeted towards African Americans - which was later deemed offensive.
It [d4] was commonly known to combine elements of blues, jazz and gospel music to develop its own sound, progressing in popularity and style through immigration. [d5] It often used its lyrics to speak out and express African American experiences/[d6] struggles and (like most African American music of the time) [d7] became influential in bridging gaps between races during a time (1950s - 1960s) of harsh segregation and strive[d8] for civil-rights, allowing all races to find common interests through the music they listened to. This [dl9] gives this music the purpose of being for both political/sociocultural expression and for listening and performing for pleasure (its later primary purpose).
The section “R & B (Rhythm and Blues)” found in the Encyclopedia of African American Music (2010) goes into more depth of the style’s stylistic development. It describes R&B’s core origins to be mainly derived from jazz and blues of the 1930s and states that many of the style’s originators had taken inspiration from big band jazz and used this to adapt the style further. For example, electric guitars began to take over as one of the key instruments alongside the usual piano and saxophone. The encyclopedia also states that compared to big band jazz the number of players had reduced, which left these R&B groups to primarily consist of vocals, guitar, bass, piano, drums and one to two saxophones. The style also gained itself strong backbeats on beats two and four during the process[d10] . Throughout the 1940s as more and more artists began to combine genres to produce their own rhythm and blues songs, different styles (like club blues or jump blues) were formed and by the 1950s R&B began to focus more specifically on its blues influences (instead of jazz) and had developed subgenres of its own. For example, as the use of electric guitar progressed it soon became a key solo instrument of rhythm and blues, later to be found (alongside bass guitar) as a main characteristic of one of the style’s derivative forms: rock and roll.
Looking at Shawn Henry’s article in The Evolution of R&B (TUC magazine, 2018) It is clear that R&B continued to develop and expand over time. So much so that the meaning of the term “rhythm and blues” itself, held many different definitions. It started out as a term for all black music with the exception of jazz, gospel music and western classical. Then throughout the 1950s and 1960s it became a catch-all term for music with influences from blues, soul, funk and (in the late 1960s) disco. When entering the 1970s, this “Classic R&B” was gradually replaced and developed into a newer, more established form known as “Contemporary R&B” by the end of the decade. This style had much weaker ties to its original jazz influences and became combined with hip hop, funk and pop in the 1980s. This caused it to develop a stronger focus on the rhythmic groove (or dance-style beat) rather than the combination of harmony and melody.[d11]
Changes in record production have also impacted the development of rhythm and blues. In a National Public Radio (NPR) podcast (The New Rhythm Of Rhythm And Blues, 2019) one of the guests Naima Cochrane, a music and culture writer, talks about some of the differences between the production techniques of classic R&B in comparison to contemporary R&B. She mentions how classic R&B records and most songs typically used to be recorded in studios with session musicians playing together live, giving them the ability to ‘play off of’[d12] and interact with each other. Even the producer would be present in order to collaborate with the artist(s) first hand. Due to how production methods and technology have progressed over time, producers (of contemporary R&B)[d13] are able to gain access to/share tracks with the artist much easier and there is less of a demand to be physically present while tracks are being recorded. The song can also be recorded in separate sections so the artist and producer can work on perfecting/editing the piece a section at a time. This then contrasts to having to spend extra money and time on booking out studios for live session musicians to be recorded (which can sometimes take days), [d14] especially when drum machines, synthesisers and other technology can be used to replicate the sounds of acoustic instruments.
‘Twistin’ the Night Away’ by Sam Cooke (see appendix, Track 2) is an example of classic rhythm and blues and can be used to highlight some of the style’s key features as well as to show the links between R&B and its earlier influences/musical roots.
(0.00 - 0.40)
In this example of classic R&B, the piece immediately opens on a short drum fill introducing the horn section and bass which are both typical features of the style’s instrumentation. Throughout the piece the drummer plays using ‘swing’ (a primary attribute of blues and jazz) on the ride cymbal with brief pauses and fills - using rolls - in between, developing the piece’s rhythmic quality[d15] . This piece shows clear links to its blues and jazz influences, most obviously displayed by its walking bass line first introduced at 0.07 (a common feature most typical of both of these styles) which also highlights R&B’s later influence on the development of rock ‘n’ roll as a genre[d16] . These stylistic influences are also evident as the piano joins (also at 0.07). The piano is played using staccato chords and improvisation, making use of added accidentals in between each chord (both improvisation and the use of accidentals further linking this piece to its blues roots[d17] ).
In[d18] contrast to rhythm and blues, t[dl19] echno is a genre of electronic dance music (EDM), meaning it is an example of ‘Music technology in the electronic and digital age’ under the areas of inquiry and has the primary purpose to make people move and dance. Therefore, it is mainly to be listened to or performed for pleasure.
Techno originated in Detroit, Michigan during the 1980s and (as described by Wills Glasspiegel and Marlon Bishop in the 2011 article for NPR, Get Familiar With Detroit Techno: 10 Essential Songs) [d20] was where many young African Americans found themselves creating their own dance beats using any form of technology that they could get a hold of at the time[d21] . They often used techno to express their futurist ideals and the music they created then became referred to as Detroit techno. Many of these individuals developed inspiration from the German group Kraftwerk, who are thought to be the first major band [d22] to popularise electronic dance music as a genre. As Bob Boilen suggests in the introduction to his (NPR) All Songs Considered podcast: ‘Kraftwerk’s Remarkable Journey – And Where It Took Us’, Kraftwerk were an electronic band formed in the 1970s that created music which was very different to what people had ever heard before. They made extensive use of the synthesiser, which allowed them to create a combination of melodies and other rhythmic beats using a variety of sounds and often used lyrics based on the relationship between humans and machines. Kraftwerk also very commonly used vocoders and a range of other special effects/technology to alter the sounds of their songs and due to their popularity, as well as how unique their music was, they later became influential to all different kinds of music genres, including techno and even having power behind the development of early hip-hop and other electro styles, which later influenced contemporary R&B.
One other key individual in the development of techno itself, was Juan Atkins who like many others, found inspiration through Kraftwerk’s music. Growing up in Detroit himself, he collaborated with school friends; Kevin Saunderson and Derrik May (who alongside Atkins, helped craft Detroit techno) and began making his own music with his first Korg MS-10 synthesiser. His music (as described in the section “Techno” of the Enclyclopedia of African American Music, 2010) [d23] was rather typical of techno and incorporated a mixture of rhythms inspired by those of four-on-the-floor dance music [d24] and the use of synthesisers (which he often used in substitute for vocal melodies)[d25] [d26] . Once he had officially started to release some of his music (under the names Cybotron, Infinti or Model 500) many other aspiring artists started to see what could be done with technology and the power of EDM/techno so began making music of their own. Because of his impact on the creation of techno, Juan later became referred to as the ‘Godfather of techno music’.
In a New York Times article (Letter of Recommendation: Detroit Techno, 2017), Shuja Haider highlights how technology has also played a huge role in how techno and other EDM styles developed their sound, and that the developments of the Roland Corporation in particular, were primarily important. For example, the TR-808 Rhythm Composer and the TB-303 Bass Line (synthesiser) [d27] were pieces of equipment that musicians
(who had access to them) could use within their home to programme their own drum beats/bass lines. They were created to replicate the sounds of acoustic drum kits/synthesise [d28] bass guitars and because of this, were not liked by many professional musicians[d29] . D.J.s, including Juan Atkins himself and his two friends (Derrik May and Kevin Saunderson), [d30] soon got their hands on this technology and were able to produce sounds unlike any musical instrument had before.
The Encyclopedia of African American Music (2010) also mentions that, as techno is a form of dance music, it shares many of its key features with other dance music genres like; disco and house. Disco in particular was very influential to the development of most dance music, as it was the first style with the primary purpose to be used in dance clubs and was also key to the creation of continuous dance tracks through the use of remixing and combining multiple songs together (meaning tracks could now flow from one song to the next without interruption[d31] ). Many key features of disco have also been found present in other dance genres, including techno. The most noticeable of which is the fundamental four-on-the-floor kick drum rhythm. Other typical characteristics of techno include; a tempo that ranges between 130 and 140 beats per minute, the use of synthesisers, futuristic/distorted timbres, sequencers, drum machines, repetitive patterns and a primary focus on timbre and rhythm instead of the use of melody. However, in contrast to other dance music genres like house, techno was mostly strictly instrumental, rarely ever using lyrics as a key feature and once techno was introduced into the European rave scene many music producers began to guide techno in a variety of different stylistic directions, causing the style to evolve over time which then led to the creation of techno subgenres like; hardcore techno, trance, electronica and many more. Techno then gained global popularity by the 1990s.
Techno Creation Exercise;
For my creation exercise (see appendix, Track 1) I have produced a short techno extract which highlights some of the key features of techno music. These include; the use of common time (4/4), a continuous four-on-the-floor kick/bass drum rhythm, looping, layering, the use of the snare or clap on beats 2 and 4 and a hi-hat played on every 16th beat. As well as the use of step sequencing, synthesisers/synthesised sounds and drum machines.
Before creating my example, I had to consider how I do not have any experience in creating electronic dance music specifically, and that I lack the access to more professional digital audio workstations (DAW), due to their cost, that may be more authentic to the actual production of techno music.
To combat these issues, I have had to familiarise myself with the typical features of techno music and the importance of loop-based composition when creating my example, as well as choosing to use an IOS app on my Iphone as a free alternative compared to more expensive and professional equipment/software. By using this method, the quality and range of the synthesised sounds I use are limited. However, having a mobile music studio in an app form makes it easy to use and still allows me to access the type of synthesisers and drum machines I need. [d32]
(Screenshots of app Groovebox)[d33]
Ripani, Richard J. (2006) The new blue music: changes in rhythm & blues, 1950–1999, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
Jordan, Chris. 2014, USA Today, Struggle for equality was set to music, https://eu.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2014/02/25/black-history-civil-rights-music/5815065/ [Accessed 7 November 2020]
Henry, Shawn. 2018, TUC, The Evolution of R&B, https://www.tucmag.net/music/the-evolution-of-rb/ [Accessed 11 December 2020]
Puryear, Mark. 2016, Smithsonian Folklife, Tell It Like It Is: A History of Rhythm and Blues, https://folklife.si.edu/magazine/freedom-sounds-tell-it-like-it-is-a-history-of-rhythm-and-blues [Accessed 12 December 2020]
Glasspiegel, Wills and Bishop, Marlon. 2011, NPR, Get Familiar With Detroit Techno: 10 Essential Songs, https://www.npr.org/2011/05/27/136655438/get-familiar-with-detroit-techno-10-essential-songs#:~:text=Although%20widely%20associated%20with%20Europe,and%20a%20predilection%20for%20Kraftwerk [Accessed 19 December 2020]
Boilen, Bob. 2020, NPR, Kraftwerk’s Remarkable Journey – And Where It Took Us, https://www.npr.org/2020/05/13/855786131/kraftwerks-remarkable-journey-and-where-it-took-us [Accessed 19 December 2020]
Rubin, Mike. 2009, The New York Times, Who Knew That Robots Were Funky? https://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/06/arts/music/06kraftwerk.html [Accessed 19 December 2020]
Reynolds, Simon C. W. Britannica, 2017, Techno, https://www.britannica.com/art/techno [Accessed 22 December 2020]
Haider, Shuja. 2017, The New York Times, Letter of Recommendation: Detroit Techno, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/13/magazine/letter-of-recommendation-detroit-techno.html?searchResultPosition=2 [Accessed 2 January 2021]
1A, The New Rhythm Of Rhythm And Blues (2019), The New Rhythm Of Rhythm And Blues [Podcast]. 15th October 2019. https://www.npr.org/2019/10/15/770371404/the-new-rhythm-of-rhythm-and-blues. [Accessed 4 January 2021]
Price III, Emmet G. Kernodle, Tammy L. Maxile, Jr. Horace J. (2010) ‘R & B (Rhythm and Blues)’, in the Encyclopedia of African American Music, Greenwood: London.
Price III, Emmet G. Kernodle, Tammy L. Maxile, Jr. Horace J. (2010) ‘Techno’, in the Encyclopedia of African American Music, Greenwood: London.
· Track 1. Techno creation example
· Track 2. ‘Twistin’ the Night Away’ - Sam Cooke (0.00 - 0.40)
***, this is a fantastic piece of work with lots of detail that you should be incredibly proud of. The main issue now though is making your efforts fit with the assessment criteria. So for example, this will mean reducing the depth of your writing and introducing more breadth - quite unusual to favour breadth over depth. See below for more criteria specific detail/s as well as using the annotated assessment criteria document which is also sent along with this marked work:
[d1]Bear in mind you also will feature a performed adaptation of Irish jig and possibly disco. This can be added/edited in later
[d3]Avoid ‘/’ in formal writing. If the text itself uses the word ‘is’ then you have to instead put the original ‘is’ inside square brackets  so that the reader can see that you are intentionally including a grammatically incorrect statement as it was written.
[d5]Unclear. Do you mean that throughout immigration the popularity increased? If so then the word ‘progresses’ does not indicate an increase in popularity – be more clear. Something can progress and become less popular; ‘progress’ just means forward, onward. If however you mean that immigration itself caused the progression then how so? My point is that this statement needs clarification.
[d6]Avoid slashes. State ‘and’ or use ‘or’.
[d7]Put this between commas, better this way
Also, this article is more concerned with the civil rights movement and how the music of the time from black artists aligned with the motives and values behind the civil rights movement. Instead, you must find sources strictly focusing on the music. Racism will of course be part of this BUT will not be the central premise. Also, USA Today is not a reliable source for inclusion in formal writing, in most scenarios at least. [dl9] [dl9]
[d10]Does the encyclopedia entry state this? Jazz itself relied on the stressing of the backbeats so it would make sense that R&B would follow pretty much the same rhythmic idiom.
[d11]Good. Just make sure you make it clear that the term ‘rhythm and blues’ essentially became and has become a catch-all term for much of popular black music – apart from jazz and western classical. This paragraph does not clearly make this ‘clear’. [d11] [d11] [d11]
[d12]With grammatically incorrect statements like this you can use quote marks to make it clear that it’s a colloquialism that is more ‘conversational’ than formal language.
[d13]No need for brackets, again – you love brackets ***!
[d14]No need for brackets here, separate with a comma.
[d15]Very vague here. You should instead focus on the swing element of this beat. Check this link which explains the rhythmic concept of ‘swing’ - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OXgWmPCC1U . Then check this great example of how it is applied to a well-known swing piece of music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGiPJZ-wRb4 Try to incorporate what you learn from these videos into your brief analysis on this piece. [d15]
[d17]I think your work would benefit hugely from a contrasting contemporary R&B audio reference extract (remember that the audio reference material does NOT contribute to your audio evidence limits). Rather than adding you can easily blend the two extracts so that at the end the track seamlessly blends into the contemporary R&B piece. I can do that for you. You should find a suitable contemporary piece. As for the extra writing, you can keep that short and simply make it clear that your selection is to demonstrate the contrast and your previous statements of the use of synthesisers, drum machines and modern production methods (such as looping, copying and pasting, FX and so forth) that is so much more employed with contemporary R&B.
[d18]Add a subtitle header here to make it clear you are focusing on a new style.
Please check my video on Teams explaining in-text citation. This way is incorrect. [dl19] [dl19] [dl19]
[d21]Such as? This is a bit vague. Any form of technology? Like a typewriter, or coffee machine? Be specific and give one or two examples.
[d22]The first, or one of the first?
[d24]A bit vague. Isn’t techno a style based almost entirely on a four-on-the-floor rhythm? Your statement ‘inspired by’ suggests that perhaps techno might not be based on the four-on-the-floor beat.
[d28]Do you mean ‘synthesize’?
[d29]Why didn’t professional musicians like synthesisers? Don’t assume your reader will know.
[d31]Briefly mention that this particular technique stemmed from the way disco DJs would mix tracks and ‘beat match’ them to keep the party and atmosphere going.
[d32]Try to make it explicitly linked to your research ***. By this I mean that you think of your research on how techno is produced. For example you mentioned the use of rhythm and bass synths, namely the TR-808 and Tb-303, so you would need to write about how your research influenced your creation. You are kind of doing this as it is implied that your creating would be based on what you have learned. However, implying is not enough; you need to be specific.
[d33]This screenshot is little confusing. You’re showing one snare hit and two kick hits. I know it’s because it’s zoomed in but can you somehow zoom out to display one bar of music, which would feature 2 snare hits and 4 kick hits? Remember that you have just spent hundreds of words telling your reader that the four-on-the-floor beat is fundamental, yet you’re not showing it in your screenshot.