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Season 11 | Episode 10

The Power of Music

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Hand playing the piano (Jack Mallon/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

Sure, music can move us, but it can also save our lives, transform people into a legends, and even knock down walls (maybe). This hour, we explore some of the outer edges of the power of music by gathering up a band of biblical horn-blowers, paying a midnight visit to a corner of Mississippi where the devil is rumored to grant wishes, and by helping an angsty 18th century composer push some classical musicians to their physical and psychological limits. 

Bite the Dust

Whatever your feelings on Disco, it's hard not to root for the resurgence of one particular track that started taking CPR classes by storm. Producer Ellen Horne explains how one aptly named 70s mega-hit could help you save someone's life.

Then, Jad and Robert pit physics against an ancient tale. ...

Comments [2]

Need for Speed

There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But it turns out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit.

Alan Pierson, ...

Comments [5]

Letting the Devil Tune Your Guitar

In this short, we go looking for the devil, and find ourselves tangled in a web of details surrounding one of the most haunting figures in music -- a legendary guitarist whose shadowy life spawned a legend so powerful, it's still being repeated... even by fans who don't believe a ...

Comments [5]

Comments [9]

dmaniac278 from Mullica Hill, NJ

Today's show was a lot of fun. Like Watt from Portland, I was waiting to hear someone mention harmonic resonance in the Jericho segment. I recall a situation back in the mid-80's, when University of South Carolina officials banned the playing of "Louie, Louie" during games at Williams-Brice Stadium. While initially blamed on the fans jumping up and down in celebration, engineers discovered that the song produced harmonics that resonated with the structure of the upper deck, causing it to sway dramatically.

The notion that the shofars could bring down the walls in this way is far more plausible than the convoluted digging/hole-in-the-shield/distracting-trumpets theory that was offered (although it did provide a good laugh).

Sep. 17 2017 03:44 PM
Shane from Denver

I love the show and today's was one of my favorites. The story on the walls of Jericho was a hoot, but I think you missed a main piece of the puzzle. I suggest that the horns had little to nothing to do with the actual damage and were likely used to keep a marching pace. Throughout history soldiers have been taught to march in unison with a noted exception,the crossing of bridges. Film of the Golden Gate dancing in the wind is a good example of why rhythm and bridges don't mix.. I suggest it was the vibration of so many feet marching in unison that tumbled the walls. Once the oscillation of the initial system is transferred from their feet to the wall, the resulting resonant frequencies should carry more then enough power to tumble a mud wall.

Sep. 16 2017 04:49 PM
JD Christison from Reno, NV

Absolutely mind blowing! Outstanding piece, really enjoyed this one.

Sep. 15 2017 02:49 PM
Alex Rediger from Baltimore

I'd like to say its fun to read biblical literalist comments but it's not. It's boring. Battle of Jericho as literal and scientific? Is the halting of the sun in another Pentateuch military battle going to be argued next?

Feb. 05 2014 03:18 PM
Andrew from Portland, O

Wow. Lot's of missing the point going on these comments.

I'm pretty sure that they just wanted to figure out whether or not the horns could knock down the walls, not figure out how to knock down walls. I thought it was a fun journey through a myth and problem that most of us hadn't delved into.

Thanks Jad and Robert!

Dec. 02 2013 05:43 PM
significantDigits from universe

PLEASE rename your podcasts in YYYY-MM-DD format so that they sort correctly!

Dec. 01 2013 10:52 PM
fishinsfun from KUER Salt Lake City UT

I laughed so hard at "the Walls of Jericho" bit at the end, that i had to bow to the computer...

Dec. 01 2013 08:45 PM
carolyn whitney from Florida

You did not contact anyone with military, tactical knowledge. You also completely discounted the marching around the walls for the previous six days. Any military tactician will remind you that the vibrations (a kind of music) of the marchers would have, if they marched in unison, weakened the walls significantly prior to the blowing of the trumpets/shofars. This phenomenon is why soldiers do not march across bridges in unison. You really need to do this story over and not focus so tightly on your definition of music.

Nov. 30 2013 12:27 PM
Watt deFalk from Portland, OR

In the segment on Joshua and de Battle ob Jericho, I can't believe no one mentioned the powerful effect tonal resonance can have on objects. Remember the old Memorex commercial with the shattering glass? It's much more likely Joshua's musicians found just the right pitch or pitches to play to arouse sympathetic vibrations in the walls and knock them down that way. This topic has long been a pet peeve of mine: too many people miss the most important lesson in this Bible story, which is how SYMPATHY can have much greater power than simple brute force.

Nov. 29 2013 05:08 PM

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