Sioux Falls Rock City? Celebrating South Dakota's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Last Saturday, most of the original members of Chicago converged in Cleveland for the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Like many groups before them who had to prepare to accept the honors, members tried to mend fences, agree on a set list, clear schedules, and rehearse songs. As the date neared, the question loomed (as it always does about some band): Who would show up and who wouldn’t? Ultimately, former lead vocalist Peter Cetera passed, but original drummer Danny Seraphine played “Saturday in the Park” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” with four other founding members for the first time since 1990. They entered the Hall, alongside Cheap Trick, Steve Miller, N.W.A., and Deep Purple.

Today, Craig Katt, a 60-something president of an audio/visual technology company in Atlanta, will make similar preparations to those honorees, but his journey will be to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Katt is bringing together former members of his band, Ivory—who you may not be familiar with unless you attended rock shows in the Upper Midwest in the ’70s and ’80s—to perform at its induction into a much lesser-known institution: the South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association Hall of Fame. Every year, the association inducts a slate of musicians, DJs, promoters, venues, and instrument stores that, at some time, played a part in the music scene of America’s 46th most populous state.

“The band is still tight and really good,” Katt, who still plays music occasionally, tells mental_floss. He says that when it formed in 1975, Ivory was “like a Crosby, Stills and Nash of the Black Hills,” with vocal harmonies and members recruited from other regionally successful bands. Though they never scored a Top 40 hit or a gold record, Ivory played more than 200 shows a year for 13 years and opened for the likes of REO Speedwagon and Mötley Crüe.

“We have two of the other original members, along with five guys who later joined the band coming in,” says Katt. The two other original members, one currently the CEO of a robotics company and the other the owner of a marketing firm, will travel to Sioux Falls to relive their rock and roll heydays—minus the long hair and tight pants.

The South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association Hall of Fame started “eight years ago with a few people who thought it was important to preserve the area’s musical heritage,” says Mark Aspaas, chairman of the board of directors. The first class was inducted in 2009.

A person, group or institution can be nominated through the group’s website, and the 11-person board, made up of longtime state music stalwarts, votes on nominees. Performers can be from South Dakota or have toured through it frequently. The association also manages a physical hall of fame, with instruments and photos from inductees, at Washington Pavilion, a Sioux Falls performing arts venue.

While some states, like Tennessee and Michigan, have district musical flavors that have influenced the greater musical history of the U.S., the nationally obscure South Dakota honorees more reflect popular music’s mid-century evolution through the lens of an intimate music scene. The Class of 2016 includes The Postmen, a group of high school kids from the city of Tripp with early Beatles-ish marching suits and haircuts; the Handy Bros. Chessman Show, a late-’60s racially integrated soul band from Sioux Falls; WhiteWing, an ethereal progressive rock band from Rapid City; and KSQY DJ Jack Morris (on-air name: “Jack Daniels”), who helped introduce hard rock to Deadwood in the ’80s.

Many of the South Dakota acts reunite for inductions, bringing together whose dreams of making a name in music far beyond Sioux Falls or Rapid City were aborted but never forgotten.

“You pick up where you left off 40 years ago,” says Brian Wheeler, a two-time inductee for his work with The Apostles and Nickel Bag of Soul, bands that together spanned the ’60s and ’70s. “You know these guys. You traveled with them.” He tells mental_floss, “Some of them haven’t picked up an instrument in 40 years, but they do it because it’s an honor.”

While outsiders may imagine South Dakota’s musical history to be as sparse as its population, Katt assures that, back in the day, it was hopping. “There were ballrooms all over the state and if you played one, you get the whole town to come out,” he says. “It was just a huge market and you could make a lot of money.” He says, in the ’70s, unknown bands playing Boston or New York City could charge a dollar or two at the doors. For anything more, young people would scurry to another club. But in an Upper Midwest town, there was no competition. Ivory could charge $5 to $10 and earn a decent living without being nationally famous. That’s why they always had the best gear and the most elaborate stage sets—jungle- and tundra-themed backdrops they used to tote across the Midwest in diesel trucks. “We could afford things other touring bands couldn’t.” He says that when he met a young Prince at a Minneapolis gig, the music legend admired his wireless electric guitar.

It's all part of a history he wants to help preserve, so that others can appreciate this small but loud part of rock and roll's colorful past.

To learn more, visit the South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association's website.

Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images
The 'David Bowie Is' Exhibition Is Coming to Your Smartphone
 Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images
Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images

"David Bowie is," an exhibition dedicated to the life, work, and legacy of the pop icon, concluded its six-year world tour on July 15. If you didn't get a chance to see it in person at its final stop at New York City's Brooklyn Museum, you can still experience the exhibit at home. As engadget reports, the artifacts displayed in the collection will be recreated in virtual and augmented reality.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, the curator of the exhibit, and the David Bowie Archive are collaborating with Sony Music Entertainment and the sound and media studio Planeta on the new project, "David Bowie is Virtual." Like the physical exhibition, the digital experience will integrate visual scenes with the music of David Bowie: 3D scans will bring the musician's costumes and personal items into the virtual sphere, allowing viewers to examine them up close, and possibly in the case of the outfits, try them on.

"These new digital versions of ‘David Bowie is’ will add unprecedented depth and intimacy to the exhibition experience, allowing the viewer to engage with the work of one of the world’s most popular and influential artists as never before," the announcement of the project reads. "Both the visual richness of this show and the visionary nature of Bowie and his art makes this a particularly ideal candidate for a VR/AR adaptation."

"David Bowie is Virtual" will be released for smartphones and all major VR and AR platforms sometimes this fall. Like the museum exhibition, it will come with an admission price, with a portion of the proceeds going toward the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Brooklyn Museum.

[h/t engadget]

Why Do Orchestras Tune to an A Note?

When orchestra members tune their instruments before a performance, it almost always sounds the same. That’s because across the world, most orchestras tune to the same A note, using a standard pitch of 440 hertz.

This is the result of international standards that have been in place since the 19th century, according to WQXR, a classical music radio station in New York City. Currently, standard tuning frequency is set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), an international group that makes recommendations on everything from what safety labels should look like to how big the hole in a pen cap should be. A standard called ISO 16, first recommended in 1955 and confirmed in 1975, “specifies the frequency for the note A in the treble stave and shall be 440 hertz.”

The ISO didn’t pull that frequency out of thin air. During the Industrial Revolution, a rush toward standardization and universality led to multiple international meetings that aimed to bring orchestras all over the world to the same pitch. Standardizing pitch had important ramifications for the international music scene.

Historically, the pitch that orchestras tuned to could differ wildly depending on where the musicians were playing. “In the course of the last 400 years in Europe, the point that has been considered ideal for a reference pitch has fluctuated by some 5 or 6 semitones,” musicologist Bruce Haynes explained in his book, A History of Performing Pitch: The Story of ‘A.’ In the 17th century, a French performer might tune his or her instrument a whole tone lower than their German colleagues. The standards could even change from one town to the next, affecting how music written in one location might sound when played in another.

As a writer for London's The Spectator observed in 1859, “It is well known that when we are performing Handel's music (for example) from the very notes in which he wrote it, we are really performing it nearly a whole tone higher than he intended;—the sound associated in his ear with the note A, being nearly the same sound which, in our ear, is associated with the note G.”

In the 19th century, a commission established by the French government tried to analyze pitch across Europe by looking at the frequencies of the tuning forks musicians used as their reference while tuning their instruments. The commission gathered tuning forks from different cities, finding that most were pitched somewhere around 445 hertz. Over the years, due to bigger concert halls and more advanced instruments, pitch was rising across most orchestras, and instruments and voices were being strained as a result. So the commission recommended lowering the standard to what was known as “the compromise pitch.”

In 1859, the French commission legally established diapason normal, the standard pitch for the A above middle C, at 435 hertz. (The music world would still be debating whether or not pitch had risen too much more than a century later.) Later, 435 hertz became enshrined as a standard elsewhere, too. In 1885, government representatives from Italy, Austria, Hungary, Prussia, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and Württemberg met to establish their own international standard, agreeing on 435 hertz. The agreement was eventually written into the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

But not everyone was on board with 435 hertz. The Royal Philharmonic Society in London believed the French pitch standard was pegged to a specific temperature—59°F—and decided to adjust their pitch upward to compensate for their concert halls being warmer than that, settling on 439 hertz. Meanwhile, in 1917, the American Federation of Musicians declared 440 hertz to be the standard pitch in the U.S.

In 1939, the International Standardizing Organization met in London to agree on a standard for concert pitch to be used across the world. A Dutch study of European pitch that year had found that while pitch varied across orchestras and countries, the average of those varied pitches was around 440 hertz. So it made sense for the ISO to choose A 440. Furthermore, radio broadcasters and technicians like the BBC preferred A 440 to the English A 439 because 439 was a prime number and thus harder to reproduce in a laboratory.

World War II delayed the official launch of the 1939 ISO agreement, but the organization issued its A 440 decision in 1955, then again two decades later. A 440 was here to stay. That said, even now, pitch does vary a little depending on the musicians in question. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra notably tunes to 443 hertz rather than the standard 440 hertz, for instance. While A 440 may be the official “concert pitch” across the world, in practice, there is still a little wiggle room.

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