kottke.org posts about Music
For Scientific American, Jen Christiansen tracks down where the iconic image on the cover of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures came from. Designer Peter Saville found the image, a stacked graph of successive radio signals from pulsar CP 1919, in a 1977 astronomy encyclopedia but it actually originated in a 1970 Ph.D. thesis.
By now I had also combed through early discovery articles in scientific journals and every book anthology on pulsars I could get my hands on to learn more about early pulsar visualizations. The more I learned, the more this descriptor in the 1971 Ostriker caption began to feel significant; "computer-generated illustration." The charts from Bell at Mullard were output in real time, using analogue plotting tools. A transition in technology from analogue to digital seemed to have been taking place between the discovery of pulsars in 1967 to the work being conducting at Arecibo in 1968 through the early 1970's. A cohort of doctoral students from Cornell University seemed to be embracing that shift, working on the cutting edge of digital analysis and pulsar data output. One PhD thesis title from that group in particular caught my attention, "Radio Observations of the Pulse Profiles and Dispersion Measures of Twelve Pulsars," by Harold D. Craft, Jr. (September 1970).
When a star gets old and fat, it explodes in a supernova, leaving a neutron star in its wake. Neutron stars are heavily magnetized and incredibly dense, approximately two times the mass of the Sun packed into an area the size of the borough of Queens. That's right around the density of an atomic nucleus, which isn't surprising given that neutron stars are mostly composed of neutrons. A teaspoon of neutron star would weigh billions of tons.
A pulsar is a neutron star that quickly rotates. As the star spins, electromagnetic beams are shot out of the magnetic poles, which sweep around in space like a lighthouse light. Pulsars can spin anywhere from once every few seconds to 700 times/second, with the surface speed approaching 1/4 of the speed of light. These successive waves of electromagnetic pulses, arriving every 1.34 seconds, are what's depicted in the stacked graph. Metaphorical meanings of its placement on the cover of a Joy Division record are left as an exercise to the reader.
Philip Glass did the soundtrack for A Brief History of Time, Errol Morris' documentary on Stephen Hawking, but it was never released as an album. Until earlier this month. Huzzah! Appears to only be available on iTunes -- couldn't find it on Amazon, Rdio, or Spotify -- and I wish they'd done more with that cover. Bleh.
A keyboard-controlled soundboard for Daft Punk's Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. See also the Beyonce Soundboardt. (via waxy)
If you take the vocals from The Perfect Drug by Nine Inch Nails and match them to the beats from Taylor Swift's Shake It Off, you get this little bit of magic:
Update: I totally forgot I'd previously featured this awesomeness: NIN's Head Like a Hole vs. Carly Rae Jepsen's Call Me Maybe. Also of note: Mark Romanek directed the videos for Shake It Off and The Perfect Drug. (via ★interesting, @sarahmakespics, and mark)
File this under #notfromtheonion: Philip Glass is co-composing the score for the new The Fantastic Four movie.
Ahead of 20th Century Fox's latest superhero reboot of The Fantastic Four, director Josh Trank has confirmed that composer Philip Glass will be scoring the forthcoming film with Marco Beltrami.
Trank, best known for his 2012 film Chronicle, spoke to Collider about his long time admiration for the composer, and said that he had been working with Glass for around a year on the film after contacting his manager.
Previous films scored by Glass include The Hours, Koyaanisqatsi, A Brief History of Time, and The Fog of War. But this actually isn't too much of a surprising departure for Glass...he did the scores for both Candyman and Candyman II, horror films based on a short story by Clive Barker.
Watch as farmer Derek Klingenberg calls his cattle in by playing Lorde's Royals on his trombone.
I can't tell if this is the perfect Monday video or the perfect Friday video. Maybe I'll post it again on Friday and we'll compare. (via the esteemed surgeon and writer @atul_gawande)
There a lots of videos of movies reimagined as 8-bit video games out there (Kill Bill, The Matrix, Pulp Fiction), but I'm posting the Guardians of the Galaxy one because of the excellent chiptune rendition of the Awesome Mix Vol. 1 soundtrack.
Hooked on a Feeling, beep beep doot doot... (via devour)
Helen Green drew all the hairstyles worn by David Bowie from before he was a star in 1964 on up to the present day. Here's they are in a glorious animated GIF:
Green also did a one-sheet of the B&W drawings. See also every Prince hairstyle from 1978 to 2013. (via @Coudal)
A project called Maximum Distance. Minimum Displacement. analyzed the lyrics of several popular rappers for geographical mentions and had an industrial robot draw each rapper's lyrical journey through the world. At a glance, you can see how worldly (Niggas in Paris) or locally oriented (Straight Outta Compton) each rapper is. Compare world-traveller Jay Z:
with Kendrick Lamar:
Kendrick Lamar's analysis is culled from the lyrics of his underground & independent albums and is heavy with Compton references. Over the next few years it will be interesting to see how mainstream successes and personal experience change the travel of his lyrics.
During the production of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick commissioned well-known film score composer Alex North to do the score for the film. North had previously done scores for A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus, Cleopatra, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and later received an honorary Oscar for his lifetime of work. As production progressed, Kubrick began to feel that the temporary music he used to edit the film was more appropriate. From an interview with Kubrick by Michel Ciment:
However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time? When you're editing a film, it's very helpful to be able to try out different pieces of music to see how they work with the scene. This is not at all an uncommon practice. Well, with a little more care and thought, these temporary music tracks can become the final score. When I had completed the editing of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I had laid in temporary music tracks for almost all of the music which was eventually used in the film. Then, in the normal way, I engaged the services of a distinguished film composer to write the score. Although he and I went over the picture very carefully, and he listened to these temporary tracks (Strauss, Ligeti, Khatchaturian) and agreed that they worked fine and would serve as a guide to the musical objectives of each sequence he, nevertheless, wrote and recorded a score which could not have been more alien to the music we had listened to, and much more serious than that, a score which, in my opinion, was completely inadequate for the film.
And so the temporary music became the iconic score we know today. For comparison, here's how North's original score would have sounded over the opening credits and initial scene:
Selections from North's original score were later released publicly. Here's a 38-minute album on Rdio:
Kubrick was absolutely right to ditch North's score...it's perfectly fine music but totally wrong for the movie, not to mention it sounds totally dated today. The classical score gives the film a timeless quality, adding to the film's appeal and reputation more than 45 years later. (via @UnlikelyWorlds)
Update: Two additional facets to this story. North first learned that Kubrick ditched his score at the NYC premiere of the film; he was reportedly (and understandably) "devastated". And even when Kubrick was artistically satisfied with the music he chose, negotiations to procure the rights weren't necessarily smooth.
2) Kubrick's associates did obtain licenses from Ligeti's publishers and from record and radio companies, although they were not forthcoming about the pivotal role assigned to the music in the film; 3) Ligeti learned about the use of his music not from his publishers but from members of the Bavarian Radio Chorus; 4) he attended a showing of the film with stopwatch in hand, furiously scribbling down timings -- thirty-two minutes in all;
Kubrick was undoubtably of the "shoot first, ask questions later" school of negotiation. (via @timrosenberg)
The soundtrack for PT Anderson's Inherent Vice is now on Spotify, well all except for one song. The album is even more partially on Rdio. For the whole thing, you'll have to head to Amazon.
The fifth track, Spooks, is a variation of a Radiohead song that's never been officially released. (via @naserca)
Rolling Stone lists the 40 most groundbreaking music albums in history. Kanye West makes the list with 808s and Heartbreaks, Dr. Dre with The Chronic, Nirvana with Nevermind, and the Beatles with Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper's. About The Chronic:
The album sold a world to white America that it had never really seen before, and packaged it with a soundtrack so funky there was no avoiding it. It was both raw, uncut underground and carefully composed pop. If Public Enemy confronted white America, The Chronic seduced it. For the first time ever, hip-hop's mainstream and America's were one.
I counted only four women artists though: Mary J. Blige, Loretta Lynn, Nico, and Carole King.
A tribute to outer space in movies, featuring clips from Gravity, The Fountain, Alien, Star Wars, Solaris, Sunshine, Guardians of the Galaxy, and more.
Music is from Hans Zimmer's soundtrack for Interstellar, which I was initially lukewarm on but have been listening to consistently over the past week or so. (via devour)
Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, and guests cover Naughty By Nature's 1993 classic Hip Hop Hooray.
See also The Muppets covering The Beastie Boys, Kanye, and M.O.P.
Pianograms are visualizations of the relative distributions of piano key presses for songs. For instance, this is Prelude in C-sharp by Rachmaninov:
RadioISS plays streams of the radio stations that the International Space Station passes over on its continual orbit of Earth. As I'm writing this, the ISS just floated over the southern tip of South American and RadioISS is playing Radio 3 Cadena Patagonia AM 789 from Patagonia, Argentina. Ah, it just switched to Alpha 101.7 FM out of Sao Paulo, Brazil. They're playing One by U2.
Dancers from legendary Bay Area hip-hop dance crews in the 1970s and 80s reminisce about the old days and show that they still have the moves.
Wonderful. There's no school like the old school. (via waxy)
Well, lookie here, the platinum edition of Beyonce is out with a second, uh, "disc" of songs, including 7/11 and the Flawless remix w/ Nicki Minaj.
Also on Spotify and Amazon MP3. (via @jennydeluxe)
I have not seen the movie yet (Alan Turing biopic starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley) but the Alexandre Desplat soundtrack is worth a listen.
Also available on Spotify or Amazon.
When you look really closely at record grooves, like at 1000x magnification, you can see the waveforms of the music itself. Sooo cool.
This video shows how the stylus moves through the grooves.
As Lisa Simpson would say, "I can see the music!"
Update: Here's a great visual explanation of how you get stereo sound out of a record. (via @pcnofelt & @marcrobichaud)
What is more fun than watching the Danish National Chamber Orchestra play a piece after having eaten some of the world's hottest chili peppers? Probably a few things, but this is pretty entertaining nonetheless.
Chili consumption happens at 1:36. Classic highbrow + lowbrow stuff here. The brass and woodwind instrument players in particular should get some kind of award...I can't imagine blowing on a trumpet in that condition. See also Hot Pepper Game Reviews.
In 1987 or 1988, Kurt Cobain made a mixtape called Montage of Heck. The Guardian has the backstory.
The tape itself is a surreal, often psychedelic insight into the mind of the 20-year-old Cobain: cut-ups of 60s, 70s and 80s TV shows interspersed with the sound of the toilet flushing and people vomiting, bits of the Beatles and Led Zeppelin interspersed with troubled Austin singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston screaming about Satan, and white noise so intense that when Simon & Garfunkel's Sound Of Silence starts up it comes as physical relief.
There are snippets of a few unreleased Nirvana songs, too, among the tumult and screaming and dead-end repetition, amid the excerpts of William Shatner, The Partridge Family, Queen, Queensryche, Butthole Surfers, James Brown. In many respects, Montage Of Heck echoes and predates turntable culture, the ubiquitous YouTube mash-up and the Beatles' experimental sound collage Revolution No 9.
The entire mixtape is available on Soundcloud and Vimeo.
Here's a rough tracklist. Just a year or two after Cobain recorded Montage of Heck, Nirvana released their debut album, Bleach, and they were off to the races.
In 2013, a group of researchers published a paper called Collective Motion of Moshers at Heavy Metal Concerts. The paper's abstract reads:
Human collective behavior can vary from calm to panicked depending on social context. Using videos publicly available online, we study the highly energized collective motion of attendees at heavy metal concerts. We find these extreme social gatherings generate similarly extreme behaviors: a disordered gas-like state called a mosh pit and an ordered vortex-like state called a circle pit. Both phenomena are reproduced in flocking simulations demonstrating that human collective behavior is consistent with the predictions of simplified models.
The authors built an interactive mosh pit simulation based on their simplified models. You can try it out right here:
Thirty years after starting Def Jam in his NYU dorm room, Rick Rubin returns to the room in question and talks about how Def Jam began.
Prince played Saturday Night Live last night at the request of host Chris Rock, doing one 8-minute medley of songs instead of two separate short performances during the show. Here's the whole performance:
If Hulu isn't working for you, try the video embed on Deadspin. A set list is available on Rdio and Spotify. (via @anildash)
Been obsessed with Run the Jewels 2 from Killer Mike and El-P this week.
Anil Dash clued me in to Run the Jewels earlier this week on Twitter:
Okay, RTJ2 is incredible. @KillerMikeGTO & @therealelp make it three classic albums in a row. Is anybody else at their level right now?
I'm not qualified to answer that, but this album is very good. Plus! Run the Jewels 2 is available as a free download.
From her recent memoir, Sheila E. recounts the first time she met Prince.
I never did make it down to the studio to meet "the kid," but a few months later, in April 1978, I was at Leopold's record store in Berkeley browsing through records when I looked up to see a new poster. It featured a beautiful young man with brown skin, a perfect Afro, and stunning green eyes. The word Prince was written in bold letters at the top. That was the guy Tom was talking about!
I found his album For You in the rack and immediately looked at the credits: "Produced, arranged, composed, and performed by Prince."
The staff at the store, whom I'd known for years, let me take the poster home. Before I'd even listened to his record, I'd taped the poster above my waterbed. Then I lowered the needle onto the album on my record player, sat on the floor, and listened to it in its entirety. Tom was right. I immediately heard that funky rhythm guitar part he'd been talking about. It wasn't only on one song, but the whole album. I stared up at the poster and told him, "I'm gonna meet you one day."
(via @anildash, probably)
With A Little Help From My Fwends is The Flaming Lips full-length cover of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. NPR has a first listen to it. ft. Foxygen, Miley Cyrus, Moby, Tegan And Sara, and others.
Last year's pulverizing and strangely pretty The Terror was often punishingly uncompromising, but With A Little Help From My Fwends tackles its impossible task with a comparatively light touch. That lightness is clear from the title alone, and yet The Flaming Lips' audaciously playful streak (required in order to cover Sgt. Pepper's in the first place) still gets undercut with moments of abrasiveness, aggression and detours down strange side roads.
From A Continuous Lean, a review of some of NYC's most beloved bygone music venues, including The Cotton Club (closed 1940), The Gaslight Cafe (closed 1971), and CBGB (closed 2006).
Despite being located in Harlem, and showcasing many black performers, The Cotton Club actually had a strict "whites only" policy.
After playing four straight days of Beyonce tunes, a Houston news radio station settled on its new format: classic hip hop. It's the first major market radio station to do so.
In many ways, this is an idea whose time has come, which is another way of saying that hip-hop, and its first-wave fans, are, well, old. Dre will be 50 in February; Ice-T is just 10 years away from his first Social Security check. Licensed to Ill topped the Billboard charts in 1987; three years later, hip-hop made up one-third of the Hot 100. By 1999, it was the country's best-selling genre, with more than 81 million albums sold. The fans who propelled the early boom probably don't know Young Thug from Rich Homie Quan, and don't want to.
The obvious parallel is to classic rock radio -- a format that emerged in the early-1980s as baby boomers rejected punk and disco, and radio execs realized it was easier to serve up old songs than convince their aging audiences to try new music. It eventually morphed into a touchstone of middle-age: Every so often, a cultural observer wakes up, checks his bald spot and wonders how Green Day or Smashing Pumpkins or some other band of his own youth got lumped in with Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith on the radio dial.
Not this cultural observer! I've never done anything of that sort ever.
Annnnyway, here's a Spotify playlist (Rdio) of the sort of thing Boom 92 will be playing. (via @tcarmody)
Underworld put out their seminal record, Dubnobasswithmyheadman, 20 years ago. To celebrate, they've released a "Super Deluxe / 20th Anniversary Remaster" version of the album with the original tracks, remixes, alternate versions, live versions, and other stuff, 6 hours and 15 minutes of music in all.
Watch and listen as Anna-Maria Hefele demonstrates polyphonic overtone singing, a technique where it sounds as though she's singing two different notes at the same time.
This blew my mind a little, particularly starting around the 3:00 mark, where she actually starts to be more fluid in her singing. (via @anotherny)
Update: See also Tuvan throat singing, Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq (who posted a photo online of her infant daughter next to a dead seal, a "sealfie"), and many other cultures who practice overtone singing. (thx, @bmcnely, @ChrisWalks1 & james)
The soundtrack for David Fincher's adaptation of Gone Girl is out and as with his last two films (The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), the music is by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Whenever the words "Reznor", "Fincher", "Atticus", and "soundtrack" get into a sentence together, you know it's good news for your earholes. (via @arainert)
ps. Speaking of Fincher, he spoke to Disney about directing a Star Wars movie and had an interesting take on the original trilogy:
I always thought of Star Wars as the story of two slaves [C-3PO and R2-D2] who go from owner to owner, witnessing their masters' folly, the ultimate folly of man.
Just dropped: a new album from Radiohead's Thom Yorke called Tomorrow's Modern Boxes. The album is being distributed on BitTorrent; one song and a video are free with the rest of the album costing $6 to d/l. On Twitter, Yorke says: "I am trying something new, don't know how it will go. but here it is:)" (via @naveen)
DJs now routinely make deliberate mistakes mixing tracks so that people will know they're mixing the tracks by hand and not just using software to automatically match beats.
DJs all over the world are now deliberately making mistakes during their mixes to prove to fans and critics that they are in fact real DJs.
The latest craze, known as miss-mixing, is proving very popular amongst digital DJs as a way of highlighting that they are actually manually mixing tracks rather than using the sync button.
Michael Briscoe, also know as DJ Whopper, spoke about miss-mixing with Wunderground, "Flawless mixing is now a thing of the past, especially for any up and coming digital DJs. You just can't afford to mix without mistakes these days or you'll be labelled as a 'sync button DJ.'"
As computers get better at things like DJing, cooking, writing, and the like, imperfection may become a mark of human-produced goods and media. In the future, we'll be urged to buy not just hand-made but Human Made™ the way people go for American made, locally made, organic, artisanal, or vintage goods nowadays. The problem, as Tyler Cowen notes, is if computers are smart enough to DJ, they're certainly clever enough to be a little sloppy too.
Update: I gots hoodwinked! Wunderground is a satirical site...DJs are not intentionally making mixing mistakes. But the idea is not all that farfetched! Under the doctrine of even if it's fake it's real, I'm satisfied with my conclusions. (thx, ken & mumoss)
In 1967, Steve Reich wrote a piece of music called Piano Phase. The piece is performed by two pianists playing the same piece of music at two slightly different speeds. As the piece progresses, the music moves in and out of phase with itself. Classical percussionist David Cossin performed with a duet of Piano with himself to produce a Piano/Video Phase:
Give it 30-90 seconds for the phase shifting to kick in. For those who aren't so musically inclined, this pendulum phasing video provides a more visual representation of what's going on:
Update: See also this Piano Phase visualization from Alexander Chen, Rhythm Necklaces, and an animation of Reich's Clapping Music. (thx, @anotherny, @RianVDM, and everyone who sent in Chen's piece)
Update: And whoa, here's Rob Kovacs playing Piano Phase on two pianos:
This wonderfulness just popped up on Rdio: The Hits/The B-Sides 3 by Prince. (And here on Spotify.)
Three hours, forty-seven minutes, and six seconds of the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince's best music, 56 songs in all.
Marvin Gaye's isolated vocals on I Heard It Through The Grapevine. The man has pipes.
According to Rolling Stone, 1984 was the greatest year in pop music history. And they made a list of the top 100 singles from that year; here's the top 5:
5. Thriller, Michael Jackson
4. Let's Go Crazy, Prince
3. I Feel for You, Chaka Khan
2. Borderline, Madonna
1. When Doves Cry, Prince
1984 was also a fine year for movies and the most 1980s year of the 1980s. Both Bill Simmons and Aaron Cohen agree, 1984 was the best year.
This list of philosophy student karaoke standards by Jarry Lee for McSweeney's contain some top-shelf philosophy puns.
My Milkshake Brings All the Baudrillard
Hit Me Baby Wittgenstein
Total Eclipse of Descartes
Red Bull is sponsoring a six-part series on the history of Japanese video game music. The first installment covers the music of Space Invaders through the Game Boy. Highlight: composer Junko Ozawa showing off her hand-drawn waveform library she used in composing scores for Namco. Bonus: Space Invader-only arcades in Japan were called "Invader houses" while arcades in New Zealand were known as "spacies parlours".
Update: Beep is a feature-length documentary film that will attempt to cover the history of video game sounds from Victorian mechanical arcades on up to the present day games. They are currently raising funds on Kickstarter.
New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones recently compiled a series of five playlists on Spotify of "perfect" songs: vol 1, vol 2, vol 3, vol 4, vol 5. Among the songs found on the playlists are Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blue Moon by Elvis, Pony by Ginuwine, Transmission by Joy Division, Tennis Court by Lorde, No Scrubs by TLC, and Rock Steady by Aretha Franklin. The playlists are also available on Rdio, courtesy of my friend Matt: vol 1, vol 2, vol 3, vol 4, and vol 5.
Update: And here's an Rdio playlist with all five volumes of Perfect Recordings. This will be on shuffle at my place for months to come.
The re/spin service helps you import any Spotify or Last.fm playlist into Rdio. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that before too long, we'll need a service to convert Rdio collections and playlists to Spotify. (via @capndesign)
As far as these things go, this video of the Muppets singing So What'cha Want by the Beastie Boys is pretty near perfect.
See also The Muppets singing Kanye West's Monster and the Sesame Street gang doing the Beastie Boys' Sure Shot. Oh, and the classic Bert & Ernie Ante Up rap video:
The mixtape that Star-Lord carries around in Guardians of the Galaxy is of course available as an actual album (Amazon mp3, iTunes). The album isn't on Rdio, but William Goodman cobbled together a playlist of all the songs:
As Slate notes, the movie merch album isn't totally true to the movie as it includes two songs from Awesome Mix Vol. 2, but I will never complain of Marvin Gaye's or the Jackson 5's inclusion in anything.
Update: And here's a playlist on Spotify, courtesy of Casey Johnston.
If you've played Monument Valley, a game so purty it won an Apple Design Award, you know the music is one of the best features of the game. Well, the original soundtrack for the game is now available for streaming on Rdio and Spotify.
The soundtrack is also available to own on Amazon or iTunes.
(Oh, and while we're at it, let's take a moment to witness how nutty app pricing is. Monument Valley costs $3.99. The soundtrack, which is a just a part of the overall game, costs $8.99 at Amazon. And that makes sense how?)
New mixtape from The Hood Internet, the eighth in a hopefully infinite series. You know what to do.
This morning's jam is by Jungle.
Halt and Catch Fire just ended its first season last night and while the show wasn't perfect, I loved almost every single minute of it. (In Time, James Poniewozik writes about why the series was so interesting.) Even haters of the show can agree that one of the best aspects of the 80s period drama is the music. There are several playlists of the music on Rdio...this seems to be the best one:
Each main character from the show also has their own playlist. Joe MacMillan: Brian Eno, Eurythmics, and The Cars. Cameron Howe: Blondie, The Clash, and The Slits. Gordon Clark: Creedence, Eric Clapton, and Dire Straits. Donna Clark: Mozart, Joni Mitchell, and Billy Joel.
Douglas Wolk isn't happy with the long-awaited James Brown biopic Get On Up:
Treating Brown's personality as the interesting thing about him means that Taylor doesn't end up saying much about Brown's music, the fascinating way it was made, or the colossal effect it had on the culture around it. As far as Get On Up is concerned, James Brown was an unstoppable personality more than he was a musician; the film suffers from "the Great Man theory of funk."
Brown's songs... were collaborative and process-based, more than any other pop star's work: Both on record and on stage, Brown directed and instructed the band, restructuring arrangements on the fly... In Get On Up, though, there's no sense that anyone else's voice mattered to him. Brown's right-hand man and backup singer Bobby Byrd (played as a hapless second banana by True Blood's Nelsan Ellis) morosely explains that James is a genius whose coattails he's lucky enough to ride, and that he himself wasn't meant to be a frontman. The Byrd who had a decadelong string of R&B hits with Brown backing him up--the best-remembered is "I Know You Got Soul"--might have disagreed.
Here two bad cultural fallacies come together: treating artists like self-contained auteurs and thinking every movie has to be an origin story. In the best stories, like in reality, everything and everyone is in medias res.
Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.
July 25 was probably the 25th anniversary of Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique. (Google and a few other sources say the release date was actually June 25, but July 25 is the consensus.) There's a new mural of the group, painted by Danielle Mastrion, at the corner of Ludlow and Rivington, on New York's Lower East Side, where the album cover was shot.
This remix of Paul's Boutique, released a few years ago, has also been recirculating on Twitter and Soundcloud. Caught in the Middle of a Three-Way Mix, by DJ Cheeba, DJ Moneyshot, and DJ Food, recombines the album's original source tracks and a capella verses with audio commentaries and a handful of newer songs.
The remix is fun to listen to, but mostly, it just reminds you that Paul's Boutique sounds amazing because its sampled sources were amazing. Like De La Soul's Three Feet High and Rising, released the same year, Paul's Boutique lifts tracks that would cost a small mint to borrow from today. (Three Feet High has never had an official digital release because the rights holders still can't sort out the royalties.) The Beatles, The Supremes, The Ramones, Curtis Mayfield, Dylan, Hendrix, Sly, Bernard Hermann, and James Brown (of course) are all there. But mostly, it's a love letter to old-school New York City hip hop: Kurtis Blow, Afrika Bambaataa and the Jazzy 5, The Sugarhill Gang, The Funky 4 +1, and contemporaries like Run-DMC, Boogie Down Productions, and Public Enemy are the glue that holds the whole project together.
Now, if you know Paul's Boutique well, you can't hear those older songs any more without hearing Paul's Boutique. There's specific moments in those songs that hide there waiting for you to trip over them, like quotations of ancient Greek in an Ezra Pound or TS Eliot poem. Beastie Boys didn't just find a way to make older music sound new; they found a way to invent their own precursors.
It's still wonderful to go back to the roots. In 2012, I found tracks from a handful of playlists and website listings and edited them together to make a Spotify playlist that I called "Paul's Boutique Without Paul's Boutique." (Later, I updated it using Benjamin Wintle's comprehensive playlist, which is really the base here -- he did an amazing job tracking down these songs.) It's just the sampled songs, roughly in the order they appear on the album. It's ridiculously fun. I like it better than the three-DJ mix, and I might like it even better than the Beasties' album.
It feels like you're at an amazing party at Adam Yauch's house, the Dust Brothers have control of the record player, and Mike D and Adam Horowitz are watching TV and telling you jokes the whole time. I never want it to end.
Update: Scott Orchard made a version of this playlist on Rdio, for the Rdio fans in the house.
Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.
You probably know that Donald Glover (actor on Community, writer on 30 Rock) also has a rap career under the stage name Childish Gambino. You may not know that the name "Childish Gambino" comes from a Wu-Tang Name Generator.
That's half of the reason I'm here - I'm dead serious. Like I met RZA and he was like, "you're a cool dude, man - and your name is perfect for you! It's like that computer had a brain!" But yeah, I put my name in a Wu-Tang name generator and it spit out Childish Gambino, and for some reason I just thought that fit.
Now here's where things get a little weird. There are multiple, competing Wu-Tang name generators. (Of course there are.) Most of them seem to work the same way -- they run a script matching your name's characters with a decent-sized database of Wu-sounding words, kind of like a hash. But little differences in the scripts or in the database give you different results.
For instance, at recordstore.com, the "Original Wu Name Generator" (tagline "WE CAN WU YOU!") spits back "Erratic Assassin" (for "Timothy Carmody"), while "Tim Carmody" yields "Well-Liked Assman." These names are both awesome.
But the "Wu-Tang Name Generator" at mess.be ("Become a real Wu warrior, entah ur full name 'n smack da ol' dirty button"), which proprietor Pieter Dom says was made in 2002, is totally different. There, "Timothy Carmody" and "Tim Carmody" return "Shriekin' Wizard" and "Gentlemen Overlord," respectively. Now, while these definitely sound like Wu names, they are definitely The W to the other site's Enter the 36 Chambers.
Here's the weird part: both of these Wu-Tang name generators return the same name for "Donald Glover." It is, of course, "Childish Gambino."
Is it just a quirk that whatever difference crept in affects most names, but not Donald Glover's? Did one of the sites hard-code that result in, to boost its credibility with people who heard the Childish Gambino story? Or is Donald Glover somehow necessarily Childish Gambino, across all possible Wu-accessible worlds, in the same way that "Clifford Smith" is always and only "Method Man," even when he pretends to be an actor?
I don't think we can ever know. But just as Russell Jones was Ol' Dirty Bastard, ODB, Dirt McGirt, Big Baby Jesus, and Ason Unique as well as Osirus, I am content to be known by many names under the Wu.
(Dedicated to "Sarkastik Beggar" and "Lesbian Pimp." Via @hoverbird.)
Update: The TLDR podcast did a follow-up to this story: The Mystery of Childish Gambino.
From This Must Be the Place, a lovely short profile of Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, California. Old Town shows silent films with live musical accompaniment. Includes a brief tour of the inner workings of the theater's wind-powered pipe organ from 1925.
Over at Very Small Array, an analysis of the obscurity of hit songs, i.e. which top ten songs from each year since 1900 have remained popular and which have been lost to the sands of time. Of the least popular hit songs:
Don't cry for them. All they need is one Wes Anderson movie to get back in the game.
On each episode of the Song Exploder podcast, Hrishikesh Hirway interviews musicians about how their songs were made..."where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made." I listened to this episode about the House of Cards theme song via this 99% Invisible episode and the inaugural episode features Jimmy Tamborello of The Postal Service talking about The District Sleeps Alone Tonight:
Today's jam -- ok, not a jam exactly but more like marmalade spread on soft white bread -- is Music for Real Airports by The Black Dog.
The title of the album is a play on Brian Eno's Music for Airports:
Airports have some of the glossiest surfaces in modern culture, but the fear underneath remains. Hence this record is not a utilitarian accompaniment to airports, in the sense of reinforcing the false utopia and fake idealism of air travel. Unlike Eno's Music for Airports, this is not a record to be used by airport authorities to lull their customers. The album is a bittersweet, enveloping and enormously engaging listen. It is ambient, but focused. This is not sonic mush, nor adolescent noise. Nor is it a dance album. Much of the raw material of the album was made in airports over the last three years. While on tour, the Black Dog made 200 hours of field recordings, much of which was processed and combined with new music in the airport itself, waiting for the next flight. This vast amount of content has been slowly distilled into a set of particularly evocative pieces of music.
(via the scissors video)
Com Truise remix of Tycho's Awake? Yes please.
Now get Kygo to remix the remix and we'll have the perfect kottke.org sleepy beats trifecta.
Yesterday, I did a round-up of movies, TV, and music available on this weekend in 1984. As a comparison, I thought looking at the same weekend from 1974 would be interesting. Tracking this information down was a little more difficult than with 1984, but I found most of what I needed in the June 23, 1974 edition of the NY Times.
Back in the 1970s (and probably particularly in NYC), movies stayed in theaters a lot longer than they do now. There was no home video market then...you either saw the movie in the theater or you missed it. This is a list of some of the movies available for viewing in theaters that weekend in NYC:
The Sugarland Express
The Great Gatsby
The Sting, Papillon, and The Exorcist had been out since late 1973, The Great Gatsby since March, and The Sugarland Express (Spielberg's directoral debut) and The Conversation since April. Only Parallax View and Chinatown had just opened. Interestingly, the year's top-grossing film, Blazing Saddles, which opened in February, didn't appear anywhere on the movie listing pages of the Times that week.
The top 10 on the Billboard chart for that week were:
Billy, Don't Be A Hero - Bo Donaldson And The Heywoods
You Make Me Feel Brand New - The Stylistics
Sundown - Gordon Lightfoot
The Streak - Ray Stevens
Be Thankful For What You Got - William DeVaughn
Band On The Run - Paul McCartney & Wings
If You Love Me (let Me Know) - Olivia Newton-John
Dancing Machine - Jackson 5
Hollywood Swinging - Kool & The Gang
The Entertainer - Marvin Hamlisch/The Sting
And on TV that weekend, a number of classic shows, all reruns except for 60 Minutes:
Sanford and Son
The Odd Couple
All in the Family
Mary Tyler Moore
BTW, the entire copy of the Sunday Times was fascinating to page through. The ads for cigarettes, hand-held calculators, and color televisions, real estate listings, job openings, book listings, the NY Times Magazine, car ads, etc.
On this weekend 30 years ago, in the summer of 1984, you could stroll into a movie theater and choose between the following films:
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
The Karate Kid
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Plus, Sixteen Candles and Footloose had just closed the weekend before. 1984 was generally a great year for movies. Musically, the following songs were in heavy rotation on the radio and on MTV that weekend:
The Reflex - Duran Duran
Time After Time - Cyndi Lauper
Let's Hear It for the Boy - Deniece Williams
Dancing in the Dark - Bruce Springsteen
Self Control - Laura Branigan
The Heart of Rock & Roll - Huey Lewis
Jump - The Pointer Sisters
When Doves Cry - Prince
Eyes Without a Face - Billy Idol
Borderline - Madonna
On TV that weekend were mostly reruns and movies...networks only showed reruns in the summer back then. The shows airing included:
The Dukes of Hazzard
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Late Night with David Letterman
(via, no foolin', the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man)
The Mozart Project is a book about the life and music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Or is it an app? Stephen Fry calls it "a completely new kind of book"...you read it in iBooks but it acts more like an app than anything. Over 200 pages of text by leading Mozart scholars is accompanied by hours of music, videos, photo slideshows, all sorts of other goodies.
Curated and authored by some of the most respected experts, The Mozart Project gives new insight into the life of a musical genius, providing the ultimate experience both in terms of contributors and the carefully selected playlist of music and images that they have chosen to feature throughout the book.
We've been listening to this quite a bit at home lately: Motown: The Complete No. 1's.
That's more than twelve hours of music, from The Miracles to Erykah Badu. Some of it, particularly from the 80s, is not so great, but as you listen, you're of course reminded of how great Stevie Wonder is. Rdio has more than 40 additional hours of Stevie for your listening pleasure. More than 30 hours of the Jackson 5. Hundreds more hours of The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Commodores, Diana Ross, and on and on. And that's just riffing off of one album in one genre. Freely choosing from an infinite buffet of choices is a completely different way of listening to music than any of us grew up with (unless you had tons of money or worked in a record store). For me, it's been an incredible way to take advantage of Tyler Cowen's observation that there's way more good unheard stuff in the back catalog than there is new music...e.g. if you haven't heard John Coltrane's The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings, it's likely to be better than most new music you'll hear this year.
Let's talk cultural mesofacts. You likely recall 50 Cent as a rapper In Da Club but much has happened since then. 50 diversified like crazy: started a record label, parlayed a possible Vitaminwater endorsement into an investment worth $100 million, and, relevant to the matter at hand, wrote several books, including a pair of self-improvement books: Formula 50: A 6-Week Workout and Nutrition Plan That Will Transform Your Life and The 50th Law. Zach Baron recently recruited 50 Cent to be his life coach for a GQ piece and it ends up going way better than he expected.
50 Cent thinks for a minute. Actually, he says, my girlfriend -- the one I just mentioned, the one I'd just moved in with? 50 Cent would like her to make a vision board, too. Then we're going to compare. "Take things out of your folder and things out of her folder to create a folder that has everything," he says. "Now the vision board is no longer your personal vision board for yourself: It's a joint board." That joint board will represent what we have in common. It will be a monument to our love.
But there will be some leftover unmatched photos, too, in each of our folders. And that's what the joint board is really for -- what it's designed to reveal. "The things that end up on your vision board that aren't in hers are the things that she has to accept," 50 Cent says. "And the things that she has that you don't are the things that you have to make a compromise with." In a healthy relationship, he explains, your differences are really what need talking about. This is how you go about making that conversation happen.
This article just keeps getting better the more you read it. (via @ystrickler)
The Wordless Music Orchestra will offer live accompaniment of two screenings of There Will Be Blood in NYC in September. The composer of the film's score, Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, will play a musical instrument called the ondes Martenot as part of the performances.
This fall, the Wordless Music Orchestra will once again collaborate with Jonny Greenwood for the U.S. premiere of There Will Be Blood Live: a full screening and live film score to Paul Thomas Anderson's 2007 masterpiece, which will be projected onto a massive 50' movie screen at the historic and absurdly beautiful United Palace Theatre: the second-largest movie screen in all of New York City.
For these shows, the film's original score -- comprising music by Jonny Greenwood, Arvo Part, and Brahms -- will be conducted by Ryan McAdams, and performed by 50+ members of the Wordless Music Orchestra, including Jonny Greenwood, who will play the ondes martenot part in both performances of his own film score.
Tickets on sale now. See you there? (thx, gabe)
Video game producers utilize music to keep you engaged, increase your achievement, and give you the energy to make it to the next level. So maybe you just found your ideal work soundtrack.
Karltorp has found that music from games he used to play as a kid, such as StarCraft, Street Fighter, and Final Fantasy, work best. Because the music is designed to foster achievement and help players get to the next level, it activates a similar "in it to win it" mentality while working, argues Karltorp. At the same time, it's not too disruptive to your concentration. "It's there in the background," said Karltorp. "It doesn't get too intrusive, it keeps you going, and usually stays on a positive tone, too, which I found is important."
Shaq calls it dreamful attraction; if you want something bad enough, it will happen. So in that spirit, I'm calling Kygo's remix of Younger by Seinabo Sey the song of the summer:
Ok, so the song already has millions of downloads and since it was out in December, you've probably already heard it, but it just screams summer. Like, "SUUUUUUUUUUUMMMMMMMERRRRRR!!!" The rest of Kygo's remixes are well worth a listen; I've been listening nonstop since Zach tweeted about them. But it's Sey's superb vocals that puts Younger over the top; here's her original version in video form:
Wonderful. Gives one hope for the future.
Every week, the Netherlands Bach Society puts up a new recording of one of Johann Sebastian Bach's works on All of Bach.
I cannot remember who sent me this Fader mix by Tycho, but I've been enjoying it greatly. Thanks!
Twee out with more than 9 hours of music from Wes Anderson's movies:
Kristian Nairn is the actor who plays Hodor on HBO's Game of Thrones. When he's not acting, the 6'10" Belfast resident DJs and makes music. His Soundcloud page contains a bunch of his house mixes; here's the latest mix from three months ago:
If you have children in your home, you have likely seen the movie Frozen and heard the song Let It Go like 50 billionty times. The movie did great in the US, coming in as the 19th biggest movie ever, but it's done amazingly well overseas: #8 on the alltime list with a $1.1 billion gross.
So it's a no-brainer for Disney to release an album with 50 different versions of Let It Go, sung in languages ranging from Arabic to Icelandic to Romanian to Vietnamese. (via @cabel)
Update: Here's a video of the entire song sung in 25 languages:
(via @waxpancake & @Ilovetoscore)
Your Monday morning needs a soundtrack and Danny Elfman's score for Errol Morris' The Unknown Known is just the thing. Available at Amazon or on iTunes.
Saturday was the 20th anniversary of the death of Kurt Cobain at the age of 27. Many have written of the anniversary, but I liked Dennis Cooper's piece published in Spin a few weeks after Cobain's death.
Cobain's work nailed how a ton of people feel. There are few moments in rock as bewilderingly moving as when he mumbled, "I found it hard / It's hard to find / Oh well, whatever / Nevermind." There's that bizarre, agonized, and devastating promise he keeps making throughout "Heart-Shaped Box": "Wish that I could eat your cancer when you turn black." Take a look in his eyes the next time MTV runs the "Heart-Shaped Box" video, and see if you can sort out the pain from the ironic detachment from the horror from the defensiveness.
(via NYT Now app)
My friend Aaron has compiled an Rdio playlist of every song ever played on MTV's Amp, a show from the mid-90s that featured electronic music. Lots of Underworld, Prodigy, Aphex Twin, and Orbital on here.
Some songs weren't available on Rdio, but there's more than 18 hours of music here.
A Clint Mansell soundtrack for a Darren Aronofsky film? Hell. Yes.
Mansell also did the soundtracks for Moon (my favorite of his, I think) and Requiem for a Dream. The Noah soundtrack is available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon.
Oh hello Grand Budapest Hotel soundtrack on Rdio. Alexandre Desplat. It's a goooood morning.
Also available for download on Amazon or iTunes if that's your thing.
A track called Computerized featuring Jay Z rapping over Daft Punk beats has surfaced. Take a listen:
I agree with Drew Millard's take that this is an old unreleased track from the Tron Legacy / The Blueprint 3 days.
First, this isn't an original Daft Punk instrumental; that keyboard line is a loop from the song "Son of Flynn" off of Daft Punk's score for Tron: Legacy. From there, literally anyone-like, even me in GarageBand-could loop that, throw some drums in there, get a vocoder plugin and sing "computeriiiiiized" into it.
From there, let's analyze Jay Z's lyrics, which include the line, "I got an iTouch but I can't feel," and also a reference to Hov Jobs' BlackBerry. Judging from the dated technology iHova is talking about on here, this is probably old as fuck.
On Friday, I mentioned listening to Nirvana with my kids. In January, Thomas Beller wrote a post for the New Yorker about introducing his two-year-old son to Nirvana.
Everything was going along fine in our living room until the song got to the break-the low, murky part-at which point Alexander called out to me, "Daddy! It's scary!"
Nirvana's music, in its anguish and energy, is scary. "Nevermind" is scary. But the break in "Drain You" is especially scary. I either had to turn it off or find a way to make this work. I didn't want to turn it off. Instead, I turned it down an infinitesimal amount and addressed my son's concerns.
"Alexander," I said, bending over to talk near his face. "This is the part where they are in the swamp. The water is dark and murky, and the trees are low. They're walking through the wet mud in the dark underbrush of the swamp."
He looked at me with wide eyes. The colored lights added to the discotheque-meets-haunted-house mood. I worried that he would have nightmares, and that I would rue the night I played "Drain You." People would shake their heads and say, "What were you thinking?"
"Right now, it's very dark, but they are trying to find their way out of the swamp," I continued.
That's some top-notch parenting there. (via @futurerocklgnds)
An excerpt from a biography on Kurt Cobain about how he and Courtney Love met.
Already infamous in Portland, Love was holding court in a booth when she saw Kurt walk by a few minutes before his band was set to appear onstage. Courtney was wearing a red polka-dot dress. "You look like Dave Pirner," she said to him, meaning the remark to sound like a small insult, but also a flirt. Kurt did look a bit like Pirner, the lead singer of Soul Asylum, as his hair had grown long and tangled -- he washed it just once a week, and then only with bar soap. Kurt responded with a flirt of his own: He grabbed Courtney and wrestled her to the ground.
I was listening to some music with the kids the other day and Ollie saw the cover for Nevermind in my iTunes and asked, "hey Daddy, what's that one with the floating baby?" So we played some songs and tried to explain what that album had meant to so many people, but I didn't do it justice. How do you explain culture shifts to kindergarten-age children? "Everything was the same as it was before, except that everything was different. Does that make sense?" In the end, I pulled a power-dad move and said, "I guess you just had to be there." ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Jesse Hill made a music video for Beyonce's Drunk in Love entirely out of emoji. Fantastic work.
Fist Eggplant! Poo! Surfbort! Oh man, that was fun.
The sheng is a free-reed wind instrument dating back to 1100 BCE in China. Using a modern sheng, Li-Jin Lee makes the ancient instrument sound remarkably like Super Mario Bros., including coin and power-up sounds.
And I know the Olympics are over and good riddance and all that, but this Mario Kart speedskating bit is great. Baby Park was one of my favorite tracks on Double Dash.
This Tumblr is collecting instances of experimental music on children's television shows. Some personal favorites are Al Jarnow's Cosmic Clock and Philip Glass on Sesame Street. (via @youngna)
For BEAT magazine, Gary Card drew an illustration of every hairstyle worn by Prince since 1978.
The Art of the Rap Logo is a collection of rap logos from NWA to Snoop Dogg to Def Jam.
In an interview with an Australian radio station, Arcade Fire's Win Butler said that the music on the Her movie soundtrack will see an official release in some form. Here's what Butler said about it:
We're just slow as a band. The music will get out there, it's just, like, a question of if we want to sell it to people or give to people or record other songs or whatever. There are many pieces on the soundtrack that are kind of based on actual songs that we've never really recorded. Yeah, there's a song called Milk and Honey and a song called Dimensions that are, like, lost great Arcade Fire songs. They are actually just things that, like, fit the world of the movie and then we kind of wrote them to the film.
That's good news! Here's the whole interview (they start talking about Her at 15:40):
Mario Wienerroither takes music videos, strips out all the sound, and then foleys back in sound effects based on what people are doing in the video. You'll get the gist after about 6 seconds of this Jamiroquai video:
Great stuff. He's also done Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, Prodigy's Firestarter, and Queen's I Want to Break Free. (via @faketv)
According to Spike Jonze, there might not be an official release of the soundtrack for Her (performed by Arcade Fire), but the whole thing is somehow currently on the internet for your listening pleasure:
Update: Win Butler of Arcade Fire now says the Her soundtrack will be released in some form eventually.
I always forget about Interview magazine but I really shouldn't because a) Warhol and b) they consistently pair interesting people together for interviews. Case in point: director Steve McQueen (Shame, 12 Years a Slave, not Bullitt) interviews Kanye West for the Feb 2014 issue.
MCQUEEN: You've been on the scene as an artist now for 10 years, which is impressive, given the level of interest and artistry that you've managed to sustain in your work. In the process, you've become incredibly influential. So you talk about doing all of these other things, which is great, but there's really no amount of money that could make you more influential than you are now. So my question is: What are you going to do with all of the influence that you have right now?
WEST: Well, influence isn't my definition of success-it's a by-product of my creativity. I just want to create more. I would be fine with making less money. I actually spend the majority of my money attempting to create more things. Not buying things or solidifying myself or trying to make my house bigger, or trying to show people how many Louis Vuitton bags I can get, or buying my way to a good seat at the table. My definition of success, again, is getting my ideas out there.
Thanks to Jonathan at The Candler Blog for the pointer; he also notes Glenn Kenny's super-apt comment:
Clearly the problem with most Kanye West interviews up until now has been the interviewer.
In 1963, Studs Terkel interviewed a 21-year-old Bob Dylan, before he was famous.
In the spring of 1963 Studs Terkel introduced Chicago radio listeners to an up-and-coming musician, not yet 22 years old, "a young folk poet who you might say looks like Huckleberry Finn, if he lived in the 20th century. His name is Bob Dylan."
Dylan had just finished recording the songs for his second album, "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan", when he traveled from New York to Chicago to play a gig at a little place partly owned by his manager, Albert Grossman, called "The Bear Club". The next day he went to the WFMT studios for the hour-long appearance on "The Studs Terkel Program".
Dangerous Minds has more detail about the interview.
Bob Dylan is a notoriously tough person to interview and that's definitely the case here, even this early in his life as a public persona. On the other hand, Terkel is a veteran interviewer, one of the best ever, and he seems genuinely impressed with the young man who was just 21 at the time and had but one record of mainly covers under his belt. Terkel does a good job of keeping things on track as he expertly gets out of the way and listens while gleaning what he can from his subject. It's an interesting match-up.
Dylan seems at least fairly straightforward about his musical influences. He talks about seeing Woody Guthrie with his uncle when he was ten years old (Is this just mythology? Who knows?), and he mentions Big Joe Williams and Pete Seeger a few times.
Much of the rest is a little trickier. Terkel has to almost beg Dylan to play what turns out to be an earnest, driving version of "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall." Dylan tells Terkel that he'd rather the interviewer "take it off the disc," but relents and does the tune anyways.
Nico Muhly is a young and celebrated classical music composer. His review of Beyonce's new album is a pretty lyrical composition itself.
This is a beautiful song. On the video, there is a long introduction with piano and strings. Use real strings, please, Beyoncé. The piano might be real but it sounds like the most expensive fake piano on the market. One would love to think that this is a comment on the artificiality of beauty -- we've become accustomed to an expensive fake in favor of the built-in and beautiful imperfections of reality -- but I doubt that was the reason for this particular oversight. Bey: call me; you know where I stay.
We may not have our jetpacks and hover cars, but our future-now has given us Tavi Gevinson interviewing Lorde and that's just as good.
Tavi: On that note, you have a very unique way of looking at the suburb where you live, which I think you've called "the Bubble." When did you realize the suburbs could be a source of inspiration?
Lorde: Well...this sounds so lame, but I grew up reading your blog, man! [Laughs]
Tavi: Oh no! "Ugh, that's so LAME, shut up!"
Lorde: [Laughs] But no, I think there is something really cool about that whole Virgin Suicides vibe of making even the bad parts bearable. I hate high school so much, but there's something kind of cool about walking around on the coldest day listening to "Lindisfarne" by James Blake or something and feeling like something has happened, even though it's the worst thing ever. The album The Suburbs by Arcade Fire was influential to me in that as way well. I just think that record is really beautiful and nostalgic and so well-written. It's a super-direct way of talking about what it's like to grow up [in the suburbs], and I think that's quite lovely.
You're asking about stuff I'm not used to talking about in interviews, so I don't have a stock way of driving the question.
Tavi: OK, then: "Do you feel 17?"
Lorde: AGHHHH! What do you even say to that, honestly?
Tavi: It's kind of a trap, because if you say yes you're shitting on their question by making it seem obvious, but if you say no you seem like you think you're older and better.
Lorde: I always get these weird people being like, "Oh, she's growing up way too fast, she looks 30." Oh, god.
Tavi: People always say that. I remember -- not to be all Mother Hen --
Lorde: No, go for it!
Tavi: I remember when people started paying attention to what I was doing, and it was like, "She should be getting knocked up like all the other kids her age!" It's like, you complain when you think teenagers are stupid, and then when they try to do something, you're all, "Oh, they're growing up too fast, they don't know what's good for them."
Lorde: It seems like a double standard to me. And there's another part of it which I find really strange, which is that so many interviewers, even ones that I consider really intelligent and good writers, will do the, like, "Oh, you're not taking your clothes off like Miley Cyrus and all these girls" thing, which to me is just the weirdest thing to say to someone. But then people will say, "She's always talking about being bored, that's petulant," which I feel like is kind of taking the piss out of teenage emotions-just, like, making light of how teenagers feel. When people react that way about things that every teenager experiences, how can you expect to make anything good?
This oral history about Sir Mix-A-Lot's hit Baby Got Back is way more interesting than it had any right to be.
Sir Mix-a-Lot: There was one event that really made me think that I should do a song about this, which was irritating the shit out of me. Amy and I were at a hotel on tour, when we saw one of the Spuds MacKenzie ads for Budweiser during the Super Bowl. You'd see these girls in the ad: Each one was shaped like a stop sign, with big hair [and] straight up-and-down bird legs. There's nothing wrong with that, but I was so sick of that shit. Now, Amy never said anything about all this until she realized I was so in favor of her physique. She was an actress, and she started admitting that she felt like she lost a lot of parts because of her hourglass figure. I knew for a fact that many artists felt that if they didn't use a skinny-model-type woman in their video, then mainstream America would reject the song. But I do not agree with that: If you look at Dolly Parton at her peak, a lot of white guys were like "daammn!" At the same time, when I did casting calls for videos, curvy women wouldn't show up. They thought they didn't have a chance. Unless you were in the hood, women who had curves -- and I'm not talking about women who are shaped like me, with a gut, but women who ran five miles a day, with a washboard, six-pack stomach and a nice round, beautiful, supple ass -- wore sweaters around their waist! Bottom line: Black men like curves. When they're crooning to women about how beautiful they are in an R&B song, the ladies you see in the video don't reflect what those guys like. Every time an R&B video was on, I heard women say, "I just saw him down in Oakland, and his girls wasn't like that." That made me think that this was more than a funny song, and it wrote itself.
Baby Got Back contributed to the cultural shift that changed that:
Sir Mix-a-Lot: Now, ass isn't a big deal. I go to the gym, and I'll hear a white girl saying to her trainer, "I want this to be round." They realize that it doesn't mean that you're out of shape if you have a nice ass. Anybody who's ever seen a stripper pick up a dollar bill with her ass knows you can't do that with fat.
About half an hour ago, Beyonce surprised the world (the internet, really) by releasing her 5th album on iTunes. There are 14 songs and videos for every song. Just two days ago, Rolling Stone reported on Columbia Records Chairman Rob Stringer saying, "At some point, Beyonce will put a record out, and when she does, it will be monumental" interpreting that to mean 'sometime in 2014.' Not exactly.
I tried to find another example of a musician releasing a surprise album, but the results are polluted with references to Paul Simon's 'Surprise,' which was likely no surprise at all.
Update: Last year at a show in Boston, Godspeed You! Black Emperor started selling copies of their unannounced new album. (thx, tomm)
Update: NME has a list of some other surprise albums. (via @kayluhb)
From Pitchfork, a list of the best album covers from 2013. My favorite is this one from Tyler, The Creator, which looks more or less like the opposite of a rap album.
I also liked Michael Cina's cover for Fort Romeau (which he adapted from his very fetching art) and of course Yeezus, which is this year's unignorable album in every way. (via @pieratt)
In celebration of his 44th birthday, Jay Z ranked his solo albums:
Here's the annotated list:
1. Reasonable Doubt (Classic)
2. The Blueprint (Classic)
3. The Black Album (Classic)
4. Vol. 2 (Classic)
5. American Gangster (4 1/2, cohesive)
6. Magna Carta (Fuckwit, Tom Ford, Oceans, Beach, On the Run, Grail)
7. Vol. 1 (Sunshine kills this album... fuck... Streets, Where I'm from, You Must Love Me...)
8. BP3 (Sorry critics, it's good. Empire (Gave Frank a run for his money))
9. Dynasty (Intro alone...)
10. Vol. 3 (Pimp C verse alone... oh, So Ghetto)
11. BP2 (Too many songs. Fucking Guru and Hip Hop, ha)
12. Kingdom Come (First game back, don't shoot me)
In a masterfully edited video, David Ehrlich presents his 25 favorite films of 2013.
Fantastic. This video makes me want to stop what I'm doing and watch movies for a week. It's a good year for it apparently...both Tyler Cowen and Bruce Handy argue that 2013 is an exceptional year for movies. I'm still fond of 1999... (via @brillhart)
From a 1968 film shot by director Jean-Luc Godard, here's the Rolling Stones in the recording studio, working on refining Sympathy for the Devil.
From Rap Genius, a chart showing mentions in rap songs of popular social sites and apps like Twitter and Instagram:
Compare with the graph for the same terms from Google News:
And here's the graph for general search terms. (I excluded Snapchat from the Google graphs because Google wouldn't allow 6 search terms at a time...it barely showed up in either case.) Twitter rules the rap roost, but Facebook demolishes everyone in general and news search traffic.
The Rolling Stones favorite American dish is something the band invented called Hot Dogs on the Rocks:
5 potatoes, or enough instant mashed potatoes to serve five
1 large can baked beans
Prepare instant mashed potatoes, or boil and mash the potatoes. (Use milk and butter, making regular, every-day mashed potatoes.) Cook the frankfurters according to the package directions and heat the baked beans.
On each plate, serve a mound of creamy mashed potatoes ringed by heated canned baked beans. Over all the top of this, slice up the frankfurters in good-sized chunks.
Emily from Dinner is Served made some Hot Dogs on the Rocks; this is what the finished product looks like:
The recipe is from a 1967 "scene-makers cook book" called Singers & Swingers in the Kitchen (at Amazon). In addition to the Stones' contribution, the book contained recipes like Paul Anka's Party Spaghetti, Crepes Suzette by Liza Minelli, Leonard Nimoy's Cold Soup Nimoy, and Barbra Streisand's Instant Coffee Ice Cream. I dunno...I think I'd take burgers from Sinatra, Dean Martin, or even Hemingway over any of this celebrity fare. (via if charlie parker was a gunslinger)
When Nirvana appeared on Top of the Pops in 1991, they were asked to only sing the lead vocal over an instrumental track. The result was perhaps the most unusual performance of Smells Like Teen Spirit ever, with the band barely playing their instruments in sync with the music and Cobain doing his best Ian Curtis/Morrisey impression.
Pharrell has made a 24-hour music video of people dancing and lip-syncing that's a cross between Christian Marclay's The Clock and Girl Walk // All Day.
I have previously reported on Rutherford Chang and his large collection of first-pressings of The Beatles' White Album.
Q: Are you a vinyl collector?
A: Yes, I collect White Albums.
Q: Do you collect anything other than that?
A: I own some vinyl and occasionally buy other albums, but nothing in multiples like the White Album.
Chang has taken 100 of those records, recorded the audio, and overlaid the resulting 100 tracks into one glorious track. Here's Side 1 x 100 (Side 2 is available on vinyl only):
The albums, as it turns out, have also aged with some variety. Some played cleanly, others had scratches, noise from embedded dirt, or vinyl wear. And though the recordings are identical, variations in the pressings, and natural fluctuations in the speed of Mr. Chang's analogue turntable, meant that the 100 recordings slowly moved out of sync, in the manner of an early Steve Reich piece: the opening of "Back in the U.S.S.R." is entirely unified, but at the start of "Dear Prudence," you hear the first line echoing several times, and by "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" the track is a nearly unrecognizeable roar.
James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) remixed David Bowie's Love is Lost in the style of minimal music composer Steve Reich. Here's the video for it by Barnaby Roper:
The video is NSFW, although most of the NS-ness is of the watching scrambled Cinemax on your uncle's cable in 1985 variety (aka datamoshing).
R. Kelly is some sort of random love song generating genius apparently. On a recent visit to the Rolling Stone offices, R. Ess asked R. Kelly to sing to them about dolphins, ice hockey, newspapers, and Italian heroes. The results R. Hilarious.
(via @leecrutchley who has a new book out.)
This is great fun...the people on every channel of this TV are singing Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan. Including Bob Dylan himself on VH1. (via @faketv)
From Freestyle: The Art of the Rhyme, a short clip of a 17-year-old Christopher Wallace (aka Biggie Smalls, aka The Notorious B.I.G.) freestyle rapping on a street corner in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn in 1989.
It's all there...the talent, the confidence, the skills. Compare with a 17-year-old LL Cool J rapping in a Maine gymnasium in 1985. (via ★interesting)
Update: Biggie was rapping on Bedford Ave between Quincy St and Lexington Ave in Bed-Stuy. Check it out on Google Maps. (thx, debbie)
This is fun: a selection of pop songs separated into their component tracks (vocals, bass, drums, etc.). You can turn parts on and off as the songs play. Featured artists include The Beatles, Spice Girls, Radiohead, and Amy Winehouse.
The text/interface is in French...just click the dark grey link labelled "> Chanson" for the song listing. (via @ajsheets)
New Zealand journalist Duncan Greive caught onto Lorde early and has written the self-styled "definitive inside account of Ella Yelich-O'Conner's rise to the top".
For advertising, Maclachlan calls in Alistair Cain, Universal New Zealand's head of marketing, and plays an early cut of the television commercial on his computer. Ella wants to keep the date rendered in Roman numerals. It looks crazy (XXVII.IX.MMXIII). She won't be moved. After an hour, they're done.
Afterwards, Cain says that in 20 years in the industry he's never come across an artist so engaged with the minutiae of their presentation. He points up at a giant poster of Lana Del Rey. "With her, we could do whatever we liked," he says.
Ella is frequently compared to Del Rey, though it infuriates her. Both are white women making pop music soaked in the rhythm and attitude of hip-hop. But Del Rey has a much more conventional narrative -- she had an image makeover prior to her breakout Born To Die album, and co-writes her songs with some of the biggest producers and writers in the industry.
Ella's songs, meanwhile, are very much her vision, and hers alone.
This summer, Lou Reed reviewed Kanye West's Yeezus, praising the albums contradictions.
Very often, he'll have this very monotonous section going and then, suddenly -- "BAP! BAP! BAP! BAP!" -- he disrupts the whole thing and we're on to something new that's absolutely incredible. That's architecture, that's structure -- this guy is seriously smart. He keeps unbalancing you. He'll pile on all this sound and then suddenly pull it away, all the way to complete silence, and then there's a scream or a beautiful melody, right there in your face. That's what I call a sucker punch.
He seems to have insinuated in a recent New York Times interview that My Beautiful Dark, Twisted Fantasy was to make up for stupid shit he'd done. And now, with this album, it's "Now that you like me, I'm going to make you unlike me." It's a dare. It's braggadoccio. Axl Rose has done that too, lots of people have. "I Am a God" -- I mean, with a song title like that, he's just begging people to attack him.
Ben Haggerty, better known as Macklemore, whose independently produced album The Heist went Platinum last year, reflects on the 12 months since the album's release and his decision to go big in lieu of going home.
I was in Madison, Wisconsin. We were about two-thirds of the way through our first "World Tour," a title we were beating people over the head with, trying to enforce our premature "stardom" on the world. I was skating around the city, looking for lunch, when Zach called me. And I'll never forget the way that Zach explained what this deal meant in regards to me.
He said, "Basically, if you sign this deal there is a potential that you will turn into a super star. Your life will change drastically. And once that happens, there is no going back. If we don't go this direction, there is a ceiling to your career. You can continue to play the same rooms you've been playing and have a strong run as an underground rapper. But taking it to the next level will not be attainable. I see positives and negatives to both sides, and will support you either way. What do you want to do"?
I knew immediately that this a decision that would alter my life forever. I knew that getting played on the radio would alienate a core group of fans; that I'd be labeled a sell-out, maybe even a "one hit wonder" if the song got big. But despite those risks, I knew at the core what I wanted.
Macklemore seems like a pretty solid guy, like the type of person who would sing questionable karaoke versions of his own hits:
See also: you're not selling out, you're blowing up and my thoughts on staying small or going big. (via bryce)
Black MIDI music composers make "seemingly impossible" music consisting of millions of notes.
Blackers take these MIDI files and run them through software such as Synesthesia, which is kind of an educational version of Guitar Hero for the piano, and bills itself as "piano for everyone." It's kind of brilliant to imagine a novice piano player looking for some online tutorials and stumbling across, say, this video of the song Bad Apple, which reportedly includes 8.49 million separate notes.
Here's a tune with 10 million notes:
And another with 110 million notes that sounds like a random TV channel played at 5000x normal speed. I really thought dubstep was going to be the "those kids and their crazy unlistenable music" transition for me, but that's nothing compared to this. If this is what the youngs are going to be listening to in three years, count me out.
The boys of CDZA take us through a history of the guitar solo in pop music, from Johnny B. Goode to John Mayer.
I loved every little bit of this letter that producer Steve Albini sent to Nirvana before the recording of In Utero, the band's final studio album. In it, Albini clearly and succinctly lays out his philosophy about recording music and has specific suggestions for working with Nirvana. But the last few paragraphs, about his payment, are awesome. I've reproduced the selection here in full:
#5: Dough. I explained this to Kurt but I thought I'd better reiterate it here. I do not want and will not take a royalty on any record I record. No points. Period. I think paying a royalty to a producer or engineer is ethically indefensible. The band write the songs. The band play the music. It's the band's fans who buy the records. The band is responsible for whether it's a great record or a horrible record. Royalties belong to the band.
I would like to be paid like a plumber: I do the job and you pay me what it's worth. The record company will expect me to ask for a point or a point and a half. If we assume three million sales, that works out to 400,000 dollars or so. There's no fucking way I would ever take that much money. I wouldn't be able to sleep.
I have to be comfortable with the amount of money you pay me, but it's your money, and I insist you be comfortable with it as well. Kurt suggested paying me a chunk which I would consider full payment, and then if you really thought I deserved more, paying me another chunk after you'd had a chance to live with the album for a while. That would be fine, but probably more organizational trouble than it's worth.
Whatever. I trust you guys to be fair to me and I know you must be familiar with what a regular industry goon would want. I will let you make the final decision about what I'm going to be paid. How much you choose to pay me will not effect my enthusiasm for the record.
Some people in my position would expect an increase in business after being associated with your band. I, however, already have more work that I can handle, and frankly, the kind of people such superficialities will attract are not people I want to work with. Please don't consider that an issue.
The Other F Word is a 2011 documentary about how punk rockers and other countercultural figures made the transition from anti-authoritarianism to parenthood. Features members from Devo, NOFX, Black Flag, Rancid, and also pro skater Tony Hawk. Here's the trailer:
To be sure, watching foul-mouthed, colorfully inked musicians attempt to fit themselves into Ward Cleaver's smoking jacket provides for some consistently hilarious situational comedy, but the film's deeper delving into a whole generation of artists clumsily making amends for their own absentee parents could strike a resonant note with anyone (punk or not) who's stumbled headfirst into family life.
Available to rent/buy on iTunes and on Amazon.
Here's a medley of isolated vocals from the Beatles' Abbey Road:
Many more isolated vocal tracks are available on this subreddit. Here are the instructions for making your own isolated vocal tracks with Audacity, the same open source audio processing app that Tim used to make his slow jams. (thx, tim)
A couple of weeks ago, a slowed-down version of Dolly Parton's classic ballad "Jolene" went viral. A lot of people who heard it loved it, a few people didn't, but everyone seemed to agree that it was like listening to either an entirely new song or the same song again for the first time.
One of the things that's eerie about this is that if you listen closely, everything is just a little bit out of tune. There's conflicting information about exactly how much the track has been slowed. Some people have said that it's simulating a 45 RPM record played at 33 1/3, which is certainly the most common way people who lived with record players heard popular songs at slower speeds. But that would actually be quite a bit slower and lower than this.
The other figure I've seen (forgive me for not citing everything, I'm typing as fast as I can) is "Jolene" has been slowed by 17 percent, which sounds about right and would explain why all the notes seem just a little bit sharp. Here's the formula for slowing or speeding up a recording to shift the pitch but generally stay in tune:
(2 ^ (semitones change/12) - 1) *100 = Percent Change
So -- as one does when procrastinating from remunerative work -- I made an Excel spreadsheet.
If you want to drop two semitones, you shift the speed down by 12.2462 percent; drop three, you shift by 18.9207 percent, which significantly changes the track. To imitate a 45 RPM record played at 33 1/3, that's about 25.926, but very few records still sound like something a person actually made at this speed. All of these slowdowns are interesting, even the ones that don't work.
You can do all of them in the free/open-source audio processing app Audacity; it's very fast and very easy. (If you want to get freaky, you can also use Audacity to change pitch without changing tempo, or vice versa, or to start out slow and go fast, and all manner of lesser and greater perversity.)
But after messing with Audacity for longer than was strictly necessary, I can tell you that some songs and transformations work out better than others, and they tend to be those that share a lot of the same characteristics as Jolene:
- A mix of quick and slow instrumentation, so there's a lot of information density. It almost has to be fractal; the more you slow it down, the more minute structures you find. The original song itself can actually be slow or fast; many fast songs really don't work, and quite a few slow ones do.
- High-pitched, typically (but not always) female vocals, so the song sounds like a person singing and not a voice-distorted growling dude from To Catch A Predator.
- The song needs to be fairly popular, so you can listen to the slow version and keep the regular-speed version in mind. This kind of continual allusion just makes it a richer experience.
And so, here are some of the results:
I described this Prince track as sounding like the slowest, sultriest, funkiest Sylvester song you've ever heard.
Mazzy Star surprised me. I always thought Hope Sandoval's vocals were gorgeous but a little warbly, which gave them character, but that's almost entirely a production effect. When you slow it down, you can really hear how clean and sustained her notes are.
My Bloody Valentine is the best example of that fractal quality. You can slow it down almost indefinitely and it still sounds like My Bloody Valentine. At this rate, though, it really just turns Bilinda Butcher's vocals into Kevin Shields'.
There's more at my Soundcloud page, including The Breeders' "Cannonball," "House of Jealous Lovers," Hot Chip's "Over and Over," Grizzly Bear's "Two Weeks" (which I actually sped up), and more. (Finally, if slowing a track down and posting it online somehow breaks copyright, let me know and I'll take them down.)
Update: Andy Baio tips me to a second remix of "Jolene" that slows down the track, but corrects the pitch. Sounds great.
Update 2: Here's Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T." slowed from 127 BPM to 110 BPM, leaving the pitch as-is.
On Soundcloud, TheMusicalOdyssey put together an hour-long mix of old blues, folk, and jazz tunes that are full of references to sex, drugs, and crime. The track listing is available on the SC page.
Lucille Bogan & Walter Roland's rendition of Shave Em Dry from 1935 is as nasty as anything 2 Live Crew put out. The lyrics are at the bottom of this page; this is the only verse printable in a family publication:
I will turn back my mattress and let you oil my springs,
I want you to grind me daddy till the bells do ring,
Ooh daddy, want you to shave 'em dry.,
Oh pray God daddy, shave 'em baby, won't you try?
(via hero squad)
In July, Jay Z rapped Picasso Baby at Pace Gallery in NYC for six hours. The fruits of that labor have been condensed by director Mark Romanek into a 10-minute music video that premiered on HBO last night. Here's the film:
The idea of performance art came to mind. I was aware of Marina Abramovic's Artist is Present, even though I was in London shooting 'Never Let Me Go' and didn't get to go. And the idea that Jay-Z regularly performs to 60,000 people at a time, I thought, 'What about performing at one person at a time?' He absolutely loved it. He interrupted me and said, 'Hold on! I've got chills. That idea is perfect.' He thinks, like me, that the music video has had its era. I also wanted to make sure we had Marina's blessing. So she attended the event and took part in the event. She couldn't have been more happy or enthusiastic about us using her concept and pushing it forward.
Also, somehow, I have never heard Jay Z talk before. That's his voice?
A study by researchers in Sweden indicates that the heartbeats of singers in a choir quickly synchronize.
Using pulse monitors attached to the singers' ears, the researchers measured the changes in the choir members' heart rates as they navigated the intricate harmonies of a Swedish hymn. When the choir began to sing, their heart rates slowed down.
"When you sing the phrases, it is a form of guided breathing," says musicologist Bjorn Vickhoff of the Sahlgrenska Academy who led the project. "You exhale on the phrases and breathe in between the phrases. When you exhale, the heart slows down."
But what really struck him was that it took almost no time at all for the singers' heart rates to become synchronized. The readout from the pulse monitors starts as a jumble of jagged lines, but quickly becomes a series of uniform peaks. The heart rates fall into a shared rhythm guided by the song's tempo.
Here's a watercolor drawing by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart of his ear compared to an ordinary ear1:
"Mozart Ear" has become a medical catch-all term for deformed ears (for instance). Deformed or not2, the ear clearly didn't have any negative effect on his musical ear. (via @DavidGrann)
 The note accompanying the drawing at Harvard's Houghton Library reads:
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, 1756-1791. Mein Ohr [und] ein gewöhnliches Ohr [My ear and an ordinary ear] : drawing, [n.p., n.d.] Water-color drawing; [n.p, n.d] 1 drawing : watercolor on paper
The "mein" is crossed out and "Mozart" is written in its place in another hand. With this is Fr. Jelinck's A.D.s., Salzburg, 1879 Sept. 19, certifying that this is by Mozart.
 It's stated elsewhere that the ear is actually that of Mozart's son, which would be slightly more plausible than Mozart drawing his own ear. ↩