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research & education: restoration of basslines to early C20 techno

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Bass was rare in man's sonic environment before the 2nd half of the 20th century. Since the evolutionary dawn of human culture, exposure to bass would have been restricted to unusual natural events such as large flaming meteorites striking one's neighbourhood or getting sat on by a mammoth.

It has been suggested (Dawkins, 1981) that this association between bass and impressive or frightening events may explain why low-frequency sound has such an emotional impact on the human psyche: in many cultures bass causes people to cack it completely, an effect cunningly manipulated by the christian church to trick people into thinking that their reaction to the basslines from 32 foot organ pipes was in fact a supernatural being freaking with their bags. This simple bass/"god" confusion allowed the church to take ridiculous amounts of money off the poor for centuries, until "god" was displaced from the equation and record companies started taking ridiculous amounts of money off the poor explicitly in return for recordings of bass. Man's tendency to blap himself when that badass b-line drops has also led to the development of a number of sonic weapons, which have been deployed in times of conflict to varying degrees of success.

True bass was eventually discovered in Jamaica in the 1960s (Perry, Hudson and Dunbarr, 1965 - 1975), and spread quickly to the rest of the world thereafter. But a question remained, which dogged technoologists for many years:
If early 20th century musicians had been capable of producing and recording bass, what would their basslines have sounded like?
Recently, Carl Loftus (who holds the Charles Franklyn professorship here at the Museum) has discovered what he thinks is the answer: by applying a partial form of the Kelly formulae, Loftus has been able to "solve" a number of early 20th century recordings, calculating where the bassline would appear in the music from available non-bass instrumentation. Here, on show to the public for the first time, are some fascinating examples:

Picture of Josephine Baker
Baker, 1924

josephine baker - sous la claire de lune

This tune was performed by Josephine Baker, black american entertainer and Art Deco icon, in Parisian clubs of the 1920s. Tragically, Baker's orchestra could produce no bass - the experience would be like hearing Missy Elliott's Pass the Dutch through a telephone hidden in a sponge cake.
MP3 button   Listen to the original recording
However, application of the partial Kelly equations to this music yields what must have been the musicians' intended result: a pumping, floor-shattering track which would turn that motherf*cker OUT!
MP3 button   Listen to the restored version
Picture of Gracie Fields
Fields, 1933

gracie fields - the biggest aspydistra in the world

Gracie Fields was a Lancastrian singer who came to prominence as a British entertainer during World War II. Her trill, nasal vocal tones and dull orchestrations cry out for a hard-ass bassline, but the only whump-whump sound an audience could hope to hear under a Gracie Fields vocal was that of Nazi explosives slapping into the local aerodrome.
MP3 button   Listen to the original recording
Again, the Kelly equations allow us to calculate, from existing instrumentation, where the bass would have been located in the arrangement. Come down blitzkrieg selector!
MP3 button   Listen to the restored version
Picture of Little Tich
Tich, 1910

little tich - the gas inspector

Little Tich was one of the international stars of music hall (not to be confused with the latterday Jamaican dancehall) in the early years of the 20th century. Four feet tall, Tich would often perform wearing a pair of 28 inch shoes. The climax of his act involved a dance routine during which Tich leapt into the air and balanced on tip-toe, almost doubling his height (this is how low entertainers were forced to stoop before bass transformed the performing arts). The song featured here is an humorous satire about a corrupt gas inspector (apparently):
MP3 button   Listen to the original recording
In this case, due to the severely degraded nature of the recording, the results of the Loftus-Kelly analysis are ambiguous - yielding two alternative versions of the bass-restored music:
MP3 button   Listen to the first restored version

MP3 button   Listen to the alternative restored version
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