homeabout kottke.orgarchives + tagsmembership!
aboutarchives + tagsmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

kottke.org posts about Music

My recent media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks. Don’t take the letter grades too seriously (that’s just good life advice).

The Simpsons. Watched some old episodes w/ the kids. I can’t tell if they’re still any good or not because I can still recite most of the dialogue by heart. (A-)

Dr. Strangelove. Superb. (A+)

DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar. I said I wanted to listen to this more and I have. Great. (A)

Citizen Jane. Watching this at a theater a short walk from the West Village and Washington Square Park was a powerful experience. (B+)

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. As good as everyone says. As a country we’ve never reckoned with what we did (and continue to do) to Native Americans and I doubt we ever will. (A-)

Pleasure by Feist. I had kinda forgotten about Feist but I will definitely remember this one. (B+)

S-Town. This didn’t go where you expected it to and it was all the better for it. Still, by the last two episodes, I’d run out of steam a little. (B+)

Nukes. Radiolab asks if there are any checks on the President ordering a nuclear strike and the answer is as terrifying as you might imagine. (B+)

True Love Waits by Christopher O’Riley & Radiohead. An old favorite. Good for when you’re feeling down. (B+)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Sequels are hard. (B)

Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke. Mindfulness Lite, not that that’s a bad thing. (B-)

Mad Men. Still plugging away at watching this all the way through a second time. The later seasons lack a little something but it’s still great overall. (A-)

Is This It by The Strokes. Great NYC terroir. This album is all mixed up with my first few months/years in the city. (A)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

We Work Remotely

Notorious B.I.G.: Life After Death Star

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2017

Otaku Gang took more than a dozen tracks by Notorious B.I.G. and remixed them with music and sounds from Star Wars. The cantina band version of Party N’ Bullshit is kinda delightful. You can download the entire album (or just the instrumentals) here.

See also the Star Wars / Beatles mashup and Gnarls Biggie. (via @naveen)

Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2017

A duo called Palette-Swap Ninja has produced a mashup of Star Wars and the entirety of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Each song on the album is paired chronologically with a scene from the movie:

Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)
Luke Is In The Desert (Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds)
Being From The Spaceport Of Mos Eisley (Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!)

The effort here is amazing, particularly when this whole thing is going to get yanked at some point soon — it’s a race between Disney and Sony for quickest takedown notice. The whole video playlist is here and you can download the full album on their website or stream it on Soundcloud. (thx, tim)

The Guardians of the Galaxy music-playing bag of Doritos

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2017

Doritos Galaxy

Frito-Lay and Marvel have teamed up to offer a limited-edition Doritos bag to promote Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The bag comes with a integrated MP3 player containing the soundtrack from the movie, a pair of 80s-style headphones, and a USB charging cable.

Plug your headphones into the bag, press play, and enjoy the Doritos packaged inside!

Their custom hashtag isn’t taking off the way that they had hoped (only 1 result on Twitter and 2 on Insta), but I have to admit, this is kinda cool…exactly the sort of weirdo product promotion that people would have gone bonkers for in the 80s.1 Engadget has a look at the bag and how it works:

The bags are sold out on Amazon (and I don’t think they were ever available anywhere else), but if you really want one, they are selling on eBay for anywhere from $50 to $500.

  1. You might even say — wait for it (actually don’t, this is stupid and beneath us all) — that it’s all that and a bag of chips. (Told you.)

Some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2017

1984. I believe I last saw this movie in high school, which seems unlikely given the nudity. Or maybe we saw a censored version, in which case: lolololol. (B+)

Ghost in the Shell. Superb visuals but the story felt flat. (B)

Big Little Lies. I almost gave up on this after two episodes. I can watch TV characters do all sorts of horrible things to each other — lie, cheat, steal, betray, kill — but apparently epically bad parenting is my last straw. But. The final episode contains one of the best scenes I’ve ever watched on TV and was just fantastic all around. Was literally on the edge of my seat for the entire 60 minutes. (A-)

Future Sex. Among the least titillating books about sex you’ll ever read. (That’s a compliment.) (B+)

The Undoing Project. I was unsure about this one until about 1/3 through but persisted because it’s Michael Lewis. Fascinating in places and unexpectedly emotional. (B)

Mr. Bean. I have never seen my kids laugh quite as hard as they did watching Mr. Bean rush to the dentist office. My dad instilled in me an appreciation of British comedy and I guess I’m passing that on to my kids. They seem to get it, but not all kids do. They were so excited recently to show some friends The Ministry of Silly Walks sketch from Monty Python and the friends looked really really confused and didn’t laugh at all. Fawlty Towers is up soon. (B)

The Rules Do Not Apply. At one shocking, heartbreaking point in the book, time reels backwards. If you’ve read Ariel Levy’s Thanksgiving in Mongolia in the New Yorker, you know exactly what I’m talking about. (B+)

Tim Carmody’s Best of the Web series for kottke.org. I love getting to be a reader of the site sometimes, just like all of you. I always enjoy Tim’s residencies here, but this one made me clap my hands in joy and stomp my feet in a jealous rage. It’s not entirely fair that he does the site better than I do, but I’m glad he does. (A)

The final season of Girls. Not their best season, but I’m sad to see it go nonetheless. The ensemble is what made the show special, and they just weren’t together enough this season. The single episode “goodbyes” for each character felt forced. (Same reason why Arrested Development season 4 wasn’t up to scratch.) (B+)

Terror of the Zygons. I started watching old Doctor Whos with the kids and they love them. (B-)

Hedgehog Launch. Ancient iOS game…my phone might contain the last functioning install of it. I started playing it a few weeks ago and now I am addicted to it for absolutely no good reason. The game sucks: it’s tough and not that fun until a certain point and then it gets really easy to win. But I can’t stop playing it. It’s like a metaphor for something in my life I can’t quite figure out. Fuck this game. (F)

Damn. I need to listen to this more. So I shall. (B+)

Get Out. Really good but not great. I saw this weeks after everyone else and my expectations were too high. Kept waiting for it to slip into a slightly higher gear but it never did. Don’t @ me! (B+)

Cloud Atlas. I’ve seen this movie at least four times and I love it. (A-)

The Prestige. Hadn’t seen this since it came out. Holds up. Had totally forgotten about Bowie as Tesla. (A-)

The Holy Mountain. Was way too sober for this. (B-)

The Life Aquatic. Not my favorite Wes Anderson but solid. There’s some weirdly clunky acting in the middle bits. (B+)

Guardians of the Galaxy. Gearing up for the new one. (A-/B+)

See also the last installment of this list from earlier this month.

Musical fractals

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 10, 2017

Adam Neely made a song that is constructed of smaller versions of itself, resulting in a musical fractal that sounds the same at full speed and at 1000 times slower. How does it work? Harmonic polyrhythms.

E=mc^2 tells us that mass and energy are the same thing, just on massively different scales. This is similar to the musician’s theory of relativity which says that rhythm, melody, and harmony are the same thing, just on similarly massively different scales.

So by slowing things way down or speeding things way up, you can convert between harmony and rhythm. (via waxy)

Translating music into American Sign Language

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 07, 2017

Amber Galloway Gallego is a ASL interpreter who has developed new techniques and expressions to translate popular music into a richer experience for deaf and hard-of-hearing people than just simply translating the lyrics.

If you frequent music festivals and concerts, you might see her — or an interpreter like her — grooving to the music, mirroring the emotions and physicality of the artists onstage, interpreting their imaginative lyrics for concert-goers who rely on visual accommodations. She’s interpreted for more than 400 artists at this point, and has a special knack for interpreting hip-hop acts.

Part of the challenge here, particularly with fast-moving rap or hip hop, is combine or abbreviate signs in order to keep time with the lyrics. See Shelby Mitchusson performing Eminem’s Lose Yourself or Gallego doing a faster song of his, Rap God:

Some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few months

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2017

Don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades, they’re super subjective. Oh, and don’t pay too much attention to the descriptions…also subjective. You know what, you should probably just skip this post and watch Planet Earth II instead. It’s objectively great.

The Handmaiden. Khoi Vinh turned me onto this. Loved it. (A)

What Happened, Miss Simone? Nina Simone is underrated. There are some spine-tingling live musical moments in this film. (B+)

The Three-Body Problem. Recommended by Barry. The first book is great, the next two are good but pretty depressing. (B+)

Moonlight. While this didn’t grab me as much as it did everyone else, the Academy got it right. (A-)

The Night Manager. I can see what Taylor Swift saw in Tom Hiddleston. (B+)

T2 Trainspotting. If you saw and loved the original, you should see this. It is somehow nostalgic and also not. (B)

Girls. The struggles of 20-something New Yorkers and the crises of 40-something males may not be the same, but they sure do rhyme. (B+)

Beauty and the Beast. Better than I expected, even for a musical about the Stockholm syndrome. (I mean, why didn’t the Beast let Belle go like waaaay sooner?) I never saw the original when I was a kid but somehow knew all the songs anyway? I even got a little teary at the end but perhaps that’s just because my emotional life is a puddly mess rn. (B)

Hidden Figures. Really liked this. (A-)

Turing’s Cathedral. Raging Bull. Manchester by the Sea. I am increasingly bored by stories about white dudes. Look at the rest of this list. The best stuff, the things I liked the most, are stories about or stories told by women or people of color or non-Americans. (C)

Homo Deus. Still haven’t finished this, but I’m persisting because Sapiens was so good. Hard to escape the conclusion that the sequel is not quite so good. (B-)

Planet Earth II. This is the best thing I’ve seen in the last year. Just fucking watch it already. (A+)

More Life. Liking this more than Views. Drake’s non-albums are better than his albums. (B+)

Mad Men. My second time through. Better than I remember and I remember it being great. (A+)

The Crown. Expected Downton (soapy but fun) but was rewarded with great acting and writing. Claire Foy as Elizabeth and John Lithgow as Churchill were *kisses fingers*. (A)

“Awaken My Love”. I’m sorry, I just couldn’t figure this one out. (C-)

Wonderland. Steven Johnson’s best book yet. (A)

The Underground Railroad. Nothing to say about this that already hasn’t been said. (A)

Logan. Producers are realizing they’ve stocked their superhero movies with great actors so maybe they should give them material worthy of their talents. (B+)

Finding Dory. It’s a movie about disability. (A-)

Abstract. Pretty good, but I agree with Rob Walker’s take. Niemann is closest to the way I work/think but I liked Bjarke’s episode the best…even though I’ve got some, er, issues with the guy. (B)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The script, not the play. I have now read all 8 of the Harry Potter books with my kids…it took more than 4 years. Very sad it’s over…it ended up being one of the most rewarding things I’ve done with them. (B+)

Mixtape Volume 10 from The Hood Internet

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 30, 2017

The Hood Internet has been pumping out mashups of rap, hip hop, electronic, and indie rock songs for 10 years now. For the 10th installment of their annual mixtape, they have compiled a list of their greatest hits.

It’s now 2017 and here we are with The Mixtape Volume Ten, aaaand wait. What’s with the subtitle — Best of The Hood Internet — is this some sort of greatest hits album from, uh, a website that DJs? Really? Yes. It is exactly that. Much like the first mixtape was a best-of everything we’d made to that point, this ten-year retrospective is 50 of our best blends (blends! there’s another synonym for you) from the catalog that we’ve willed into existence over the last decade. Listen to it, enjoy it or hate it, and together let’s all mourn the ten-year anniversary of the death of mashups.

Here’s to 10 more years! (via @j_blackburn)

Daft Punk samples and their sources

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2017

Daft Punk creates their songs by extensively sampling records, mostly from the 70s and 80s. In some cases, bits of song are used relatively unchanged while others are chopped up and repeated to the point of being unrecognizable. Here are a few of the group’s samples compared with their original sources.

See also the duo’s Alive 2007 live album, which I have been listening to extensively lately.

Update: The video I’d originally linked to got taken down but I replaced it with another one. Here’s another one as well.

Bowie impersonates other singers like Springsteen, Lou Reed

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2017

In a recording session in 1985, David Bowie casually did a number of impressions of other singers in-between takes. Among others, he sang as Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and Iggy Pop. These impersonations were recorded by producer Mark Saunders and were only released after Bowie’s death last year. Sanders recalls that the song Bowie sings appears to have been written quickly that day:

I think that Bowie probably wrote these lyrics quickly for the Springsteen impersonation which is first. I have no memory of us sitting around waiting for him to rewrite so it was probably done very quickly. If so, that’s pretty impressive! The imagery is definitely very Bruce.

The accompanying piece by Saunders is worth a read as well. During one of several sessions with Bowie, Mick Jagger showed up to record their Dancing in the Street cover for Live Aid; they did the whole thing, start to finish, in three hours.

The band was still working on different sections of the song, so there was a lot of stopping and starting, and it was as if Mick was wired to the sound because he could be in the middle of a serious conversation and when the band started playing he’d immediately start dancing and when the band stopped, he would, too. Not a full-blown Mick Jagger-on-stage kinda dance, but an on-the-spot dance that would enable him to continue his serious conversation. I thought this was awesome — like, he’s the real deal; music is in his blood and he just can’t even help himself!

(via @joeeenglish)

Steve Reich is calling

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2017

Oh, this is just a little brilliant. Steve Reich is a composer famous for his experimentation with musical looping and phasing. His 1967 piece Piano Phase featured a pair of pianists repetitively performing the same piece at two slightly different tempos, forming a continually evolving musical round. Seth Kranzler took this idea and made a Reich-like piece with two iPhones ringing at slightly different tempos. Here’s a video of the effect in action:

Man, this is nerdy on so many levels and I am here for it.

Update: Here’s a couple more tracks along the same lines: the drum fill from In the Air Tonight and the Amen break.

(via @frank_chimero)

Duke Ellington played Beatles tunes on the Ed Sullivan Show

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2017

In 1970, Duke Ellington and his orchestra played a medley of songs by The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. The set list was:

She Loves You
All My Loving
Eleanor Rigby
She’s Leaving Home
Norwegian Wood
Ticket To Ride

See also The Beatles singing I Want to Hold Your Hand on their very first Ed Sullivan appearance, which kicked off the British Invasion in earnest.

Bach’s Crab Canon is a musical palindrome

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 23, 2017

In a series of pieces written for King Frederick II of Prussia in 1747 called The Musical Offering, Johann Sebastian Bach included a canon that is popularly referred to as the Crab Canon. The piece is a puzzle to be worked out by the reader/player.

You may notice that the Crab Canon is performed by two instruments, but only one line is notated. What’s the deal?

Bach published the canons in the Musical Offering as puzzles, giving the reader the minimum amount of information with which they can figure out the piece as long as they understand its structure. To “solve” a puzzle canon is to give it a structure that makes it fit together in pleasing harmony.

The solution to the Crab Canon is that it can be played forwards or backwards or forwards and backwards together in accompaniment. It’s a musical palindrome of sorts. (via open culture)

Using data science to find the most depressing Radiohead songs

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 22, 2017

Saddest Radiohead Song

Radiohead is data scientist Charlie Thompson’s favorite band and he recently employed his professional skills to determine Radiohead’s most depressing songs and albums. Using data from Spotify and Genius, he analyzed and weighted how sad each song sounded musically and the sadness of the lyrics.

While valence serves as an out-of-the box measure of musical sentiment, the emotions behind song lyrics are much more elusive. To find the most depressing song, I used sentiment analysis to pick out words associated with sadness. Specifically, I used tidytext and the NRC lexicon, based on a crowd-sourced project by the National Research Council Canada. This lexicon contains an array of emotions (sadness, joy, anger, surprise, etc.) and the words determined to most likely elicit them.

Unsurprisingly, True Love Waits is Radiohead’s saddest song and Moon Shaped Pool its saddest album. You can play with this interactive chart to see all of the results. I thought Videotape would score lower on the Gloom Index…along with True Love Waits, it’s my go-to Radiohead song for wallowing in the darkness of my life. (via @RichardWestenra)

The Americans vs. The Beastie Boys

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2017

Some genius took footage from The Americans and cut it into an alternative music video for The Beastie Boys Sabotage. Compare with the real thing:

Pretty good! Plus it’s always great to hear that song. (thx, steve)

Advice on how to play a gig by Thelonious Monk

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2017

Advice from Thelonious Monk

In 1960, saxophonist Steve Lacy wrote down a list of advice from jazz pianist Thelonious Monk on how to play music. Among the items on the list:

Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.

Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that. Don’t listen to me. I’m supposed to be accompanying you!

Always leave them wanting more.

What should we wear tonight? Sharp as possible!

Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along & do it. A genius is the one most like himself.

As is the case with most thoughtful advice, many of Monk’s points apply to things other than music. (via swiss miss)

The Devil Went Down To Georgia, washing machine edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 09, 2017

Aaron McAvoy’s washing machine makes a banging noise while washing clothes so he played The Devil Went Down to Georgia in time with the banging. This is the most perfect little internet entertainment…I actually started crying I was laughing so hard. A much needed respite from the world. See also the washing machine edition of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ and a tribute to George Michael. (via @aaroncoleman0)

Update: McAvoy and his washing machine are back with this cover of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.

As he says, don’t miss the “guest appearance by my white trash dryer”. See also Thunderstruck on the bagpipes (which is really one of my favorite online things of all time for some reason).

Brahms vs. Radiohead

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2017

Steve Hackman, aka Stereo Hideout, composes, arranges, and conducts mashups of orchestral music and pop music. Not just mixes on Soundcloud, mind you, but entirely new compositions that are played by actual orchestras. The video embedded above is Brahms Symphony No. 1 mixed with Radiohead’s OK Computer but he’s also done a few others that are available on YouTube: Copland vs Bon Iver, Beethoven vs Coldplay, and Bartok vs Bjork. Hackman’s next project in this vein? Tchaikovsky vs Drake, which he’s premiering with the Pittsburgh Symphony in March. (thx, spencer)

Update: Here’s a trailer from Tchaikovsky vs Drake:

I wish I lived closer to Pittsburgh…I’d totally go.

Stevie Wonder and the radical politics of love

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 03, 2017

You never really need a good reason to listen to Stevie Wonder. But his peak run of albums in the 1970s are particularly welcome today. The songs are beautiful, they’re familiar, and they’re varied. They engage melancholy without being defeated by sadness; they engage anger without being defeated by despair. Stevie Wonder is invincible.

He’s also probably underrecognized as a political songwriter. Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Sly Stone, or even George Clinton are probably much better known for their politics and political anthems. Stevie, the balladeer, is just as fierce, but sly, emotional, and psychologically devastating.

Here are three songs, from three albums recorded in three consecutive years, all from the Nixon era. Each year, the lyrics get more pointed, more obvious in their contempt. But it’s a contempt mingled with understanding, and grounded in a deep, deep love for the people most affected by political failure.

On August 7, 1974, Stevie released “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” as a single, with the two-year-old “Big Brother” as a B-side. (MESSAGE!) Two days later, Nixon resigned.1 By November, the song was a Billboard number one.

And that’s why you don’t mess with Stevie Wonder.

(There was even a Trump-themed remix of “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” that came out last year, but I’m not really a fan. I’d rather listen to Stevie sing with the Jackson 5 than hear his music all mixed up with Trump quotes.)

The next album that would come in the sequence is Songs In the Key of Life. Out of all of Stevie’s albums, this is the hardest for me to listen to right now. It touches too many personal memories, hopes and fears and dreams.

Songs in the Key of Life tries to reconcile the reality of the post-Nixon era — the pain that even though the enemy is gone, the work is not done and the world has not been transformed — with an inclusive hope that it one day will be, and that faith, hope, and love are still possible.

It’s what makes the album such a magnificent achievement. But I’m not there. I don’t know when I will be. So for now I’m keeping Songs In the Key of Life on the shelf. An unopened bottle of champagne for a day I may never see. But I’d like to.

  1. Nixon had more material problems right then than Stevie, but still, that’s good timing.

Making Television’s Marquee Moon, 40 Years Later

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 02, 2017

To celebrate Marquee Moon’s 40th (!) anniversary, Damien Love has posted an extended interview with guitarist Richard Lloyd. Lloyd describes meeting Richard Hell (then Richard Meyers) and Tom Verlaine (then Tom Miller), forming a band, making some singles, Hell leaving to form the Voidoids, and then recording what would slowwwwly turn out to be one of the greatest albums ever.

Tom and I, our guitars meshed together immediately. I had studied a kind of classic rock guitar, where you do whole step bends, half step bends. When I was a teenager, I had a friend who knew Jimi Hendrix, and Jimi gave this guy lessons, who passed them on to me, and I met Hendrix and watched him play, so that’s where I was coming from.

Tom played with a completely different style. He used the classical vibrato. It’s technical to describe, but it’s like on a violin: you move your wrist back and forth, the finger doesn’t move, but the pitch goes up and down. I don’t know where he got it. It was more like a sitar player, but that was Tom’s style, this magnificent classical vibrato. He’d never do whole step bends, always micro-bends. But our two styles just suited each other beautifully. Between the two of us, we had all the different guitar aspects you could want. I was playing much more classical rock, Tom was playing his odd, in-between thing. But if Tom would show me something, I could play it.

The next thing was convincing Richard Hell to play bass. Tom couldn’t do it. Richie said, “I’m not a musician. I can’t do it.” When Tom wasn’t around, I asked him what the problem was. He said, “Listen. Playing with Tom is like going to the dentist. Except you’d rather go to the dentist.”

Like a lot of kids with a lot of cult rock bands, I didn’t hear about Television until I went to college. I really liked Talking Heads, and in the liner notes of their greatest hits comp Sand in the Vaseline, David Byrne says that when their band first got together, they sounded a lot like “early Television.” I was intrigued.

Then VH1 (this being the glory days of VH1) put out a “100 Greatest Albums” special and threw in Marquee Moon at #83. They showed clips of the band and their songs, and people I knew like Sonic Youth and Henry Rollins talking about how beautiful and influential it was.

It didn’t sound like anything else on that list, besides maybe The Velvet Underground & Nico. (At the time, I thought VU was a totally obscure band that I was a genius for discovering and liking.) It still doesn’t. It didn’t sound like the other punk albums, and the only other indie rock album that made the cut was The Replacements’ Let It Be, which has a totally different vibe. It was this little constellation of Gen X diamonds hidden in a list otherwise dominated by aging boomers and young pop-worshippers, with a few undeniable golden age hip-hop albums thrown in to mix it up.

I think I went out and bought Marquee Moon, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Liz Phair’s Exile In Guyville, and Iggy & The Stooges’ Raw Power the next day. Television helped get me to Big Star, The New York Dolls, My Bloody Valentine, and the hundred other record-store guitar bands that made me a sweetly happy, insufferable, twentysomething cliché, now fully prepared to crap all over VH1’s or any other list of 100 Greatest Albums.

But while my pleasure in debating greatest-ever lists has faded, as has my joy in digging through album crates and filesharing sites to find new bands everyone else has already heard of, my love and appreciation for Marquee Moon remains pretty much the same.

Great sound, great songs, great gossipy soap-opera stories — what else could you want?

Woody Guthrie and the Family Trump

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 02, 2017

More than a year ago, before the Iowa caucuses, the story of folk singer/songwriter/activist Woody Guthrie’s hatred for his landlord, Fred Trump (father of Donald) started to circulate. (I believe the first piece was this nicely done essay at The Conversation, by Will Kaufman.)

The story goes like this: Between 1950 and 1952, Guthrie lived in a Federal Housing Administration-funded low-income apartment building in Brooklyn’s Coney Island built by Fred Trump. But Trump (who already had a history of bigotry, including an arrest at a Klan parade that turned into a riot in 1927), quickly worked to segregate even his federal developments, prohibiting black tenants from renting in majority-white complexes or neighborhoods.

Guthrie moved out of the Trump building when his two-year-lease was up, but wrote a song about it called “Old Man Trump”:

I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate
He stirred up in that bloodpot of human hearts
When he drawed that color line
Here at his Beach Haven family project

Beach Haven ain’t my home!
No, I just can’t pay this rent!
My money’s down the drain,
And my soul is badly bent!
Beach Haven is Trump’s Tower
Where no black folks come to roam,
No, no, Old Man Trump!
Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!

And in fact, Donald and his father Fred would eventually be sued for housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act of 1968; this was 1973, and was the first time Donald Trump ever appeared in the New York Times (“Major Landlord Accused of Antiblack Bias in City”). They settled the lawsuit in 1975.

But that’s not the end of the story. The present-day Trump slogan “America First” is a direct callback to the America First Committee, an isolationist antiwar group that formed after the outbreak of World War 2 in Europe. It included pacifists and farmers and students and socialists and businessmen and a lot of wealthy, anti-Semitic, pro-German, pro-fascist Americans, notably its main spokesman Charles Lindbergh.

As it happens, one of Woody Guthrie’s best protest songs, “Lindbergh” (or “Mister Charlie Lindbergh”) is about America First. It criticizes Lindbergh and the group, but also the devil’s bargain socialist and other workers’ groups across the midwest had made in partnering up with pro-Nazi capitalists:

Hitler said to Lindy: “Stall ‘em all you can,
Gonna bomb Pearl Harbor with the help of old Japan.”
In Washington, Washington.

Then on a December mornin’, the bombs come from Japan,
Wake Island and Pearl Harbor, kill fifteen hundred men.
In Washington, Washington

Now Lindy tried to join the army, but they wouldn’t let him in,
Afraid he’d sell to Hitler a few more million men.
In Washington, Washington

So I’m a-gonna tell you people, if Hitler’s gonna be beat,
The common workin’ people has got to take the seat
In Washington, Washington.

And I’m gonna tell you workers, ‘fore you cash in your checks:
They say “America First,” but they mean “America Next!”
In Washington, Washington.

Easy enough to remember.

These David Bowie stamps are gorgeous

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 30, 2017

bowie_stamps_00.jpg

The United Kingdom’s Royal Mail is releasing a limited edition of ten stamps honoring David Bowie, available on March 14 (although you can preorder now).

The images include Bowie in concert on the Ziggy Stardust tour of 1973; the famous zigzag lightning bolt across his face on the “Aladdin Sane” cover; and the covers of his “Heroes” (1977), “Let’s Dance” (1983) and “Earthling” (1997) albums. An image from Bowie’s final LP, “Blackstar,” released days before his death, is also part of the set…

The Royal Mail said that this will be the first time it has dedicated a full set of stamps to a single musician. Philip Parker, the stamp strategy manager at the Royal Mail, said in a statement that the stamp issue honored Bowie’s “many celebrated personas.”

He said: “For five decades David Bowie was at the forefront of contemporary culture, and has influenced successive generations of musicians, artists, designers and writers.”

I would love for the USPS to do something similar for Prince. I don’t know if we have any other stamps that honor royalty. (Besides maybe Wonder Woman.)

Listen to early drafts of Hamilton songs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2017

Lin-Manuel Miranda recently released the early drafts of eight Hamilton songs on Soundcloud. Miranda sings all the parts himself and they’re a lot less showtuney and more hip-hoppy than the finished product. Worth a listen for fans of process.

The leisurely pace of light speed

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2017

In a 45-minute video called Riding Light, Alphonse Swinehart animates the journey outward from the Sun to Jupiter from the perspective of a photon of light. The video underscores just how slow light is in comparison to the vast distances it has to cover, even within our own solar system. Light takes 8.5 minutes to travel from the Sun to the Earth, almost 45 minutes to Jupiter, more than 4 years to the nearest star, 100,000 years to the center of our galaxy, 2.5 million years to the nearest large galaxy (Andromeda), and 32 billion years to reach the most remote galaxy ever observed.1 The music is by Steve Reich (Music for 18 Musicians), whose music can also seem sort of endless.

If you’re impatient, you can watch this 3-minute version, sped up by 15 times:

  1. This isn’t strictly true. As I understand it, a photon that just left the Sun will never reach that most remote galaxy.

The evolution of recorded music

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2017

The Recording Academy has produced a series of three short and breezy videos on the history of recorded music, from the wax cylinder phonograph to cassette tapes to CDs to MP3s. Interest piqued, I went to read more about the history of the CD. When developing the disc, the physical size of it was dictated by Beethoven:

The two companies argued about what size, shape and technology the CD should support. It was eventually settled on a disc of 115 millimetres in diameter and 74 minutes worth of storage. Why 74 minutes? To fit Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, of course.

When the format was released in 1982, players cost $900 and CDs themselves were $30 ($2270 and $75 in 2016 dollars)1 and fewer than 100 individual titles were available for sale.

  1. And remember when movies on VHS cost up to $89.95? (If you paid that for a movie in 1984, that’s $210 in 2016 dollars. Suddenly those Hamilton tickets don’t seem so expensive.) Very few could afford to buy movies outright at that price…therefore, Blockbuster. See also the pricing for the original Nintendo.

80s covers of contemporary pop songs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2017

A Canadian musician called TRONICBOX is taking contemporary pop songs like Katy Perry’s Firework, Baby by Justin Bieber, and Somebody I Used To Know by Gotye and remixing them so they sound like they came out in the 80s. The effect is unnerving for someone like me who grew up immersed in 80s pop music. Even though it’s impossible, I can almost remember listening to some of these songs back in my bedroom, probably taped off the radio during Casey Kasem’s top 40 countdown. Total time travel paradox nostalgia bombs. (via digg)

Beyonce interviews Solange

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2017

Solange Wedding

Beyoncé Knowles recently interviewed her sister Solange Knowles for Interview magazine.

And, as far back as I can remember, our mother always taught us to be in control of our voice and our bodies and our work, and she showed us that through her example. If she conjured up an idea, there was not one element of that idea that she was not going to have her hand in. She was not going to hand that over to someone. And I think it’s been an interesting thing to navigate, especially watching you do the same in all aspects of your work: Society labels that a control freak, an obsessive woman, or someone who has an inability to trust her team or to empower other people to do the work, which is completely untrue. There’s no way to succeed without having a team and all of the moving parts that help bring it into life. But I do have — and I’m unafraid to say it — a very distinctive, clear vision of how I want to present myself and my body and my voice and my perspective. And who better to really tell that story than yourself?

This exchange just made me laugh out loud:

BEYONCÉ: Well, it brought tears to my eyes to hear both of our parents speak openly about some of their experiences. And what made you choose Master P to speak on the album?

SOLANGE: Well, I find a lot of similarities in Master P and our dad.

BEYONCÉ: Me, too. [laughs]

I loved the simple mic drop bio for Beyoncé at the bottom:

BEYONCÉ IS A 20-TIME GRAMMY AWARD-WINNING RECORDING ARTIST. HER SIXTH STUDIO ALBUM AND COMPANION FILM, LEMONADE, WAS RELEASED LAST YEAR.

And Beyoncé is right about Solange’s wedding photo (above), it is indeed “the dopest wedding photo of all time”. (via @caseyjohnston)

Order from Chaos, a mesmerizing video of emergence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2017

French visual effects artist Maxime Causeret took a track from Max Cooper’s album Emergence and created these wonderful biologically inspired patterns and interactions.

Maxime also shows us a section of animated reaction-diffusion patterns, where simple chemical feedback mechanisms can yield complex flowing bands of colour — these forms of system were originally thought up by Alan Turing, and were part of the early seeds of the field of systems biology, which seeks to simulate life with computers, in order to better understand the systems producing the complexity we see in the living world. They were also the starting point of my main research area many years ago before I got lost in music! (where I began with the question of what patterns could be produced via reaction-diffusion forms of system as opposed to gene-regulatory network controlled patterning).

There’s a blue brain coral pattern at the 1:30 mark and a neuron-ish pattern at 2:30 that I wish would go on forever. Headphones recommended, psychoactive drugs optional. (via colossal)

Crossroads by Bruce Conner

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2016

Crossroads Nuclear Test

One of my favorite art experiences this year was seeing Bruce Conner’s short film Crossroads at The Whitney. (It’s part of the Dreamlands exhibition, on view until Feb 5, 2017.) The film pairs slow-motion clips of the 1946 nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll with music from composers Patrick Gleeson and Terry Riley. The result is mesmerizing…the film’s 37 minutes long and I sat through the entire thing and will likely go back once more before the show closes. Riley’s portion of the music was particularly memorable for me…I would love to have a recording of that. Neither the film or the music is available online, save for the short clip at the bottom of this page, so you’ll have to go to The Whitney or SFMOMA, where it also happens to be showing.

Update: It’s not an exact match, but this 51-minute song from Riley called Descending Moonshine Dervishes is quite close to the music he did for Crossroads.