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Why is music addicted to bass?

Tom Service explores the intrinsic importance to humans of bass in music, focusing on works by Bach, Boulez, Stevie Wonder and Dizzee Rascal as well as reggae and rock 'n' roll.

Can you imagine a piece of music without its bass line? Or going out dancing with no bass to move to?

Whether it's an epic symphony or a club classic - we love listening to the bass.

But what actually is 'bass'? How is it that we can often feel it as much as hear it? And why is it that every genre of music seems to need it.

Tom Service goes on a whistlestop tour of bass through the musical ages: from Bach to Boulez, via reggae to rock n roll, Stevie Wonder to Dizzee Rascal. He discovers what links whales and horror movies in the world of bass. And he enlists the help of neuroscientist Dr Laurel Trainor to find out how we're hardwired into the bass as humans and whether it might even be true that the bigger the bass, the more we like each other.

Available now

29 minutes

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Music Played

  • Carl William Smith Raynard Miner

    Rescue Me

    Performer: Fontella Bass.
    • Rescued.
    • Chess.
    • 1.
  • Johann Sebastian Bach

    Suite no.3 in D major. II Air

    Performer: Freiberg Baroque Orchestra.
    • Bach: Complete Orchestral Suites / Freiburger.
    • Harmonia Mundi.
    • 9.
  • Queen

    Another one Bites the Dust

    • Another one Bites the Dust.
    • EMI.
  • Gustav Mahler

    Symphony no.6 – 1st mvt

    Performer: Budapest FO. Performer: Iván Fischer.
    • Gustav Mahler, Ivan Fischer, Budapest Festival Orchestra.
    • Channel classics.
  • Giorgio Moroder

    I Feel Love

    Performer: Donna Summer.
    • Endless Summer.
    • Casablanca.
    • 4.
  • Baluji Shrivastav

    Raag Shobhavari

    • Classical Indian Ragas – Shadow of the Lotus.
    • ARC Music.
    • 2.
  • Trad.

    Gendhing Carabalen

    Performer: Stsi (Conservatory) Surakarta.
    • Gamelan From Central Java.
    • ARC Music.
    • 7.
  • Trad.

    Mandinka Dounou

    Performer: Drums of Mali.
    • Drums of Mali.
    • Sterns.
    • 7.
  • Maurice Ravel

    La valse arr for two pianos

    Performer: Martha Argerich. Performer: Sergio Tiempo.
    • Martha Argerich and Friends - Live from the Lugano Festival 2011.
    • EMI.
    • 1.
  • Sergei Prokofiev

    Dance of the Knights (Romeo and Juliet)

    Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Valery Gergiev.
    • Prokofiev: Romeo & Juliet: Valery Gergiev.
    • LSO Live.
  • Andrew Van Dorsselaer

    Don’t Call me Baby

    Performer: Madison Avenue.
    • The Polyester Embassy.
    • C2.
    • 3.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

    Piano Sonata No 16 in C major, K 545 (1st mvt)

    Performer: Mitsuko Uchida.
    • Mozart: Complete Piano Sonatas: Mitsuko Uchida.
    • Philips.
    • 1.
  • Georges Bizet

    Habanera (Carmen)

    Conductor: BBC Philharmonic. Conductor: Alpesh Chauhan.
  • Francesco Cavalli

    Che città (L'Ormindo)

    Ensemble: L’Arpeggiata. Conductor: Christina Pluhar. Singer: Núria Rial.
    • Erato.
  • Johann Sebastian Bach

    Suite for cello solo no. 1 (BWV.1007) in G major, Prelude

    Performer: Yo‐Yo Ma.
    • J. S. Bach, The Cello Suites: Yo-Yo Ma.
    • Sony Classical.
    • 1.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

    Divertimento in D major, K.136

    Ensemble: Hagen Quartett.
    • Deutsche Grammophon.
  • Joseph Haydn

    Quartet op.20 no.2 – 1st mvt

    Performer: Hagen Quartett.
    • DG.
  • Frédéric Chopin

    24 Preludes for piano (Op.28); no.2 in A minor

    Performer: Martha Argerich.
    • Chopin: 26 Preludes Scherzo NR. 2 - Martha Argerich.
    • Deutsche Grammaphon.
    • 2.
  • Anton Bruckner

    Symphony no.8 – 1st mvt

    Performer: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Performer: Riccardo Chailly.
    • Bruckner 8 Chailly/Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
    • Decca.
  • Pierre Boulez

    Le Marteau sans maitre

    Performer: Ensemble intercontemporain.
    • Music of Our Time.
    • DG.
  • Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

    Jailhouse Rock

    Performer: Elvis Presley.
    • Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits.
    • RCA.
  • Stevie Wonder

    I Wish

    • Songs in the Key of Life.
    • Motown.
    • 6.
  • Miles Davis

    So What

    • Kind Of Blue.
    • Columbia.
    • 1.
  • Charles Mingus

    GG Train

    • Mingus Ah Um.
    • Columbia.
    • 11.
  • Arcangelo Corelli

    Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op 6 No 8, 'Christmas Concerto'

    Ensemble: The English Concert. Conductor: Trevor Pinnock.
    • Corelli: Concerti Grossi Op.6.
    • Archiv.
    • 7-12.
  • Toots & The Maytals

    54-46 Was My Number

    • Sweet and Dandy: The Best of Toots & the Maytals.
    • Jet Set Records.
    • 11.
  • Dizzee Rascal

    Dance Wiv Me (feat. Calvin Harris and Chrome) (feat. Calvin Harris & Chrome)

    • Tongue N Cheek.
    • Dirtee Stank.
    • 3.
  • Chuck Berry

    You Never Can Tell

    • The Gold - Chuck Berry.
    • Chess.
    • 16.
  • Ben E. King

    Stand By Me

    Composer: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Performer: Ben E. King.
    • The Very Best of Ben E. King.
    • Rhino.
    • 7.

Broadcasts

  • Sun 18 Sep 2016 17:00
  • Sun 25 Feb 2018 17:00

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Podcast